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Russia's top Air Force officer denies planes flew over Georgia

RIA Novosti

17/08/2007 19:56 (Adds Khvorov quotes in paras 4-5, Georgia statement in paras 7-9, background, details throughout)

TBILISI, August 17 (RIA Novosti) - The chief of staff of Russia's Air Force, Gen. Igor Khvorov, denied Friday Tbilisi's claims that Russian aircraft violated Georgian airspace on August 6.

Georgia accused Russia of firing a missile last Monday on a village 40 miles northwest of the Georgian capital and next to the border with breakaway South Ossetia. The 1,400-pound missile did not explode, but has become the latest source of tension between the former Soviet allies.

"There was no unsanctioned border crossing," Khvorov told a briefing in the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi. "Services on duty were working in normal mode."

The general also said evidence that could have explained the situation had been destroyed. "Clues, including the number of the rocket, have been eliminated along with the fuse of the unexploded missile," he said, adding that two thirds of the missile parts were also missing.

Khvorov said Russian experts investigating the alleged violation of Georgian airspace at the site suspected the missile had exploded at another site. Russian experts also suggested earlier Friday that the missile had been deliberately planted by Tbilisi.

Moscow, which Tbilisi has accused of backing separatists in South Ossetia, has denied involvement in the incident, saying it was "a new provocation" staged by Tbilisi to destabilize the region. South Ossetia echoed the accusations, saying the aircraft came from Georgia's side.

The Georgian Defense Ministry accused Russian experts of refusing to constructively cooperate in the investigation.

"Unfortunately, the Russian side demonstrated no constructive approach and virtually avoided cooperation in the investigation," the ministry said in a statement Friday.

The ministry appealed to the international community in the hope of "political assessment of the situation."

Tbilisi has demanded that the European Union step in and the UN Security Council hold an emergency session on the matter. An international group of independent experts from the United States, Sweden, Lithuania and Latvia have also been working at the site and have been quoted by Georgian officials as saying Russia had violated the airspace.

Russian experts have completed work at the site of the incident, and have left for Tbilisi where they will visit the Interior Ministry to study the missile parts.

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