Fri, Aug 17, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Georgian officials say experts confirm Russia jet incursion

MISSILE FUROR The experts said one Russian aircraft entered Georgian airspace three times, but they did not say anything about the dropped missile

AP, TBILISI

Georgian officials said on Wednesday that international military experts have determined that a single plane that entered Georgian air space last week and dropped a missile came from Russian air space.

That conclusion by outside experts, distributed in a Foreign Ministry statement, is likely to bolster Tbilisi's insistence that the aircraft was Russian in origin and that the missile that landed near a Georgian village may have been of a hostile nature.

Tbilisi has angrily demanded an explanation for the Aug. 6 incident from Russia, which has denied that any of its aircraft flew into Georgia and has accused Tbilisi of theatrics and staging a provocation.

The ministry has not named the experts or identified their precise expertise or backgrounds, saying only that they were from the US, Sweden, Latvia and two other countries and that it had invited them to help with the investigation.

three incursions

The experts said one, not two, aircraft entered Georgian airspace from Russian territory three times in all, according to the ministry. The first incursion lasted less than a minute, the ministry said. Two subsequent flights over Georgian airspace lasted for 11 minutes each; during the last of the three, the aircraft flew deep into Georgian territory, the ministry said.

The experts did not identify the aircraft nor say anything about the missile that landed near a village, the ministry said.

Georgian officials have insisted the aircraft was a Russian SU-24 jet and identified the missile as a Russian-made, anti-radar Raduga KH-58.

"The conclusions of the group of experts has confirmed the facts of the Georgian side," Foreign Ministry spokesman David Dondua said at a news conference.

Zarina Gabiyev, a spokeswoman for the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi, said she had no comment on the report, but noted that a group of Russian military experts would be arriving in Georgia yesterday to join the investigation.

raised tensions

The incident raised tensions between Georgia and Russia, who have long been at odds over the status of South Ossetia -- near where the missile fell -- and another breakaway region, Abkhazia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili's repeatedly stated determination to bring his country into NATO and the EU has also irked Moscow.

South Ossetia broke free from Tbilisi in fighting in the mid-1990s. Since then, it has been de-facto independent, led by an internationally unrecognized separatist government, though supported openly by Russia.

Small clashes sporadically break out more than a decade after the end of the war.

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