Sun, Aug 19, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Russia continues denial of Georgian missile drop

AP , TBILISI

A visiting delegation of Russian defense experts said Georgian officials have provided them with no convincing proof to support their assertions that a Russian plane entered the country's airspace and dropped a missile.

A senior Russian official, meanwhile, said on Friday that a report by a team of international investigators that backed the overflight claims was politicized, and the chief of staff of Russia's air force suggested Georgia had planted the missile debris.

Georgia says a plane coming from Russia entered the country's airspace and dropped a missile on Aug. 6. The missile did not explode and no casualties were reported, but the incident sharply escalated long-standing tensions between Georgia and its giant neighbor.

Russia on Thursday blocked a US attempt to have the UN Security Council issue a statement on the incident.

The Russian experts, speaking in Tbilisi, said their two-day investigation had not confirmed any violations of Georgian airspace by Russian aircraft.

"We asked the Georgian side to show us the radar ... or at least to inform us about its characteristics, but we were refused," Lieutenant General Igor Khvorov, the air force chief, said at a news conference.

"The statement of international experts arouses bewilderment. It looks as if the statement was made not by experts, but by politicians. It is clear that they were only using the information from one side," Russian special envoy Valery Kenyaikin said earlier.

Khvorov repeated Russia's consistent denials that its aircraft violated Georgian airspace.

"There was no border crossing by a plane. As far as the missile is concerned, I cannot make any conclusions since the information is contradictory ..." he said.

Although the missile's warhead did not detonate, its remnants were in several pieces.

"The internal explosion of the missile could have occurred not [in the village] but in a different place and then the debris could have been brought here and burnt up," Khvorov said.

Georgia's deputy defense minister, Batu Kutelia, in turn, said "the Russian side has not shown constructiveness and practically evaded cooperation with the investigation."

In a two-page report, which was distributed on Wednesday by the Georgian Foreign Ministry, the eight international military experts did not identify the aircraft, but agreed with Georgian conclusions that the missile was a Russian-made, anti-radar Raduga Kh-58.

The team, which included a Latvian air traffic controller, two Swedish defense experts and US analysts, visited the site and reviewed radar data.

The incident has further increased high tensions between Georgia and Russia, which have long been at odds over the status of South Ossetia -- near the area where the missile fell -- and another breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia.

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