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Russia denies involvement in Kodori shelling

RIA Novosti

15/03/2007 12:57 MOSCOW, March 15 (RIA Novosti) - Russia denied Thursday accusations of involvement in Sunday's shelling of the upper part of the Kodori Gorge, the de facto border between the self-proclaimed republic of Abkhazia and Georgia.

Georgian authorities said Monday that the upper part of Kodori came under rocket and artillery fire for 40 minutes during the night. They cited local police and witnesses who saw two helicopters that had violated Georgia's airspace by flying from Abkhazia, and that the artillery shelling had also originated from the same direction. No casualties were reported.

Grigory Karasin, deputy Russian foreign minister, said his ministry was seriously concerned over the shelling reports.

"First of all, I would like to state with responsibility that the data we have does not confirm allegations of Russia's involvements. The facts of the shooting in upper Kodori were registered by the UN Observer Mission in Georgia and CIS peacekeepers," Karasin told Izvestia, a respected Russian daily.

The Russian Air Force denied the reports Wednesday, calling them mere provocation.

"The report by Georgian authorities alleging that a part of the Kodori Gorge, where the villages of Azhara, Gentsvishi and Chkhalta are located, came under helicopter attack that presumably flew from Russia, is nothing but pure provocation," Air Force spokesman Alexander Drobyshevsky said.

It is not the first time Georgia has accused Russia and the breakaway republic of Abkhazia of violating a ceasefire agreement signed to end a bloody war that broke out after the separatist region proclaimed its independence in the early 1990s.

Abkhazia has not been recognized as a sovereign state either by Tbilisi or by the international community. Moscow supports the self-proclaimed republic's bid for independence, and has said that if the United Nations grants full sovereignty to the Serbian province of Kosovo, it should treat Abkhazia the same way.

Georgia's pro-Western government, which came to power on the back of a "rose" revolution in 2003, is determined to bring Abkhazia back under its control.

The latest talks to resolve the long-running conflict between the post-Soviet Caucasus nation and its rebellious region broke off in July of last year when Tbilisi moved security forces into the Kodori Gorge and established a local administration using Abkhaz political exiles.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Monday that any attack on upper Abkhazia, where the Georgian military has been deployed since the summer of 2006, would be regarded as an attack on Georgia.

"Any attack on the population of upper Abkhazia is an attack on Georgia, and the country, in accordance with all available means, will respond to an attack and defend itself," Saakashvili told the National Security Council.

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