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Russian experts say evidence in Georgia incident fabricated

RIA Novosti

17/08/2007 15:09 TBILISI, August 17 (RIA Novosti) - Russian experts investigating the alleged violation of Georgian airspace by a Russian warplane said they suspect an unexploded missile found in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict zone had been deliberately planted by Tbilisi.

Georgia accused Russia last week 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.

"We have the impression that the missile was destroyed somewhere else, and its pieces were later delivered here [to a village of Tsitelubani] and spread around the alleged explosion site," Russian Air Force Chief of Staff Igor Khvorov said after visiting the area.

A group of Russian Defense Ministry experts, headed by Khvorov, joined a probe into the missile incident Thursday. Following the inspection of the site near the border between Georgia and the breakaway region of South Ossetia, the experts will study other evidence provided by Georgia.

The Russian military officials will hold a news conference on the results of their investigation at the Russian Embassy in Tbilisi at 4:00 p.m. Moscow time (noon GMT) Friday.

Georgia earlier claimed an international group of independent experts from the United States, Sweden, Lithuania and Latvia had confirmed the airspace violation was from the Russian side.

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

The U.S. Embassy in Georgia issued an official statement Friday calling for the increased presence of international observers monitoring the situation in the Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zone.

South Ossetia, which declared its independence from Georgia following a bloody conflict that left hundreds dead in 1991-1992, is a sensitive issue in bilateral relations between Georgia and Russia.

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

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