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Tbilisi says Russian airspace violation possibly part of exercise

RIA Novosti

16/08/2007 17:44 TBILISI, August 16 (RIA Novosti) - Tbilisi said Thursday that the air incident, in which an unidentified aircraft violated its airspace from the Russian side August 6, could have been linked to Russian military exercises in the North Caucasus.

Tbilisi accused Russia of violating its airspace and dropping a missile at a radar station near the border with breakaway South Ossetia. The missile did not explode, and Russia has denied the charges as a provocation to disrupt peace efforts in the conflict zone, where it deploys peacekeepers.

"According to a report posted on the Russian Defense Ministry Web site, large-scale exercises involving Air Force and missile defense units were held in the North Caucasus military district at the time," the Georgian Foreign Ministry said. "An aircraft taking part in the exercises could have violated Georgia's airspace."

Georgia also said an international group of independent experts had confirmed the airspace violation was from the Russian side.

However, Russia keeps denying involvement in the air incident, and Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone earlier said the aircraft had come from Georgia and returned there.

At a government session earlier in the day, Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili said a delegation from Spain, which holds the OSCE Chairmanship this year, would also visit Tbilisi later this week to study the issue.

"The peacekeeping department of the UN Security Council will also present a report on the bombing at today's session," Bezhuashvili said.

Georgian ambassador to the UN, Irakly Alasaniya, asked UN Secretary General Pan Ki-Moon to hold a meeting of the Group of Friends of Georgia without Russia.

A group of Russian Defense Ministry experts, including Russian Air Force Commander Igor Khvorov, is to join a probe later today into the incident already being conducted by an independent commission, comprising specialists from the United States, Sweden, Lithuania and Latvia.

The missile incident renewed tensions between the two countries, which have so far failed to find common ground on the sensitive issue of South Ossetia.

Georgian authorities are seeking to bring the breakaway republic back under their control, and have accused Russia, which has peacekeepers in the area, along with Georgian and South Ossetian troops, of fuelling separatist sentiments.

The latest reports said a session of the Georgian state commission on the status of South-Ossetia, earlier scheduled for August 15, had been postponed for two weeks.

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