Thu, Aug 09, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Georgia accuses Russia in missile incident

EXPLOSIVE A Russian general said a missile fired on Georgian territory was Georgian, while Tbilisi countered that it has neither aircraft of the type seen or any such missiles


Georgia said yesterday it had proof that Russian jets violated its airspace and released a missile that landed near a house. Russia has denied the claim.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry issued a formal protest, calling the intrusion and firing of the missile "undisguised aggression and a gross violation of sovereignty of the country."

"This was a provocation aimed only at one thing, at disrupting the peace in Georgia, which would cause panic in society and ultimately change the political course of the country," Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili said on Tuesday at the site.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry said yesterday that radar records compatible with NATO standards showed that a Russian Su-24 aircraft had flown from Russia into Georgia and launched a missile, which did not explode.

Investigators identified the weapon as a Russian-made Raduga Kh-58 missile designed to hit radars, the ministry said. The missile, code-named by NATO as AS-11, carried a warhead of 140kg of TNT, it said.

The Russian air force has flatly denied that its planes had crossed into Georgian airspace.

Georgia has long accused Russia of trying to destabilize the country and of backing separatists in its breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which Saakashvili has pledged to bring back under central government control.

The Gori region, where the missile was dropped, is next to South Ossetia.

General Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of Russian peacekeepers patrolling South Ossetia, said an unidentified aircraft dropped the missile after flying over South Ossetia and coming under fire from the ground.

Kulakhmetov suggested the plane came from Georgia.

Boris Chochiyev, a deputy prime minister in South Ossetia's separatist government, accused Georgia of dropping the missile.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry emphasized yesterday that the country does not have Su-24 aircraft or missiles of that type.

Relations between Russia and Georgia have been strained ever since Saakashvili was elected president in early 2004 and made clear his intentions to move the former Soviet republic closer to the West and join NATO.

Georgia has accused Russia of backing separatists, while Moscow, in turn, has accused Tbilisi of fomenting tensions around rebel provinces.

It has repeatedly accused Russia of violating its airspace -- claims Russia has invariably denied.

Earlier this year, Georgia said Russian helicopters fired on its territory in the Kodori Gorge, a volatile area on the fringes of breakaway Abkhazia. A UN report on the incident was inconclusive.

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