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Russia Accused of Missile Firing in Georgian Air Space

07 August 2007

The former Soviet republic of Georgia is accusing Russia of firing a missile inside its air space. The weapon apparently did not explode, but as VOA correspondent Peter Fedynsky reports from Moscow, the incident again raises tensions between Georgia and Russia.

Georgia called in the Russian ambassador to Tbilisi to protest the alleged missile firing and violation of Georgian airspace. A representative of the country's Interior Ministry, Shota Utiashvili, told VOA that two Russian planes flew about 60 kilometers into Georgian airspace. He says the missile landed near the village of Tsitelubani, 60 kilometers from the capital, Tbilisi.

"The missile," says Utiashvili, "landed about 30 meters from the home of a local resident and created a narrow hole about five-meters deep, but there were no casualties," he said.

Officials in Russia strongly deny the Georgian accusations.

There were no Russian military flights in the area all day Monday, nor were there any in the evening, overnight or on Tuesday morning," said Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky, a spokesman for the Russian air force. "The border of the sovereign state of Georgia was not violated."

Interior Ministry spokesman Utiashvili says the planes flew at high altitude and their markings were not visible from the ground. But Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili says the planes were identified as Sukhoi-24 attack aircraft, which entered Georgian airspace from Russia late Monday.

Georgian officials are studying the site where they say the missile landed, which was shown on television with debris that had Cyrillic lettering.

The alleged missile firing occurred near the rebel Georgian province of South Ossetia. Officials there are blaming Georgia for staging the missile launch in an effort to discredit Russia. Georgian leaders accuse Moscow of supporting South Ossetian separatists.

Relations between Tbilisi and Moscow have become steadily worse since the 2003 election of Georgian President Mikhail Shaakashvilli, a pro-Western leader who is seeking closer ties with NATO.

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