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Georgia And Russia Deadlocked Over Mystery Missile Strike

The missile did not explode and caused no injuries, but Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili accused Russia of bombarding Georgia, raising the stakes in already tense relations between the pro-Western country and its Soviet-era master.
by Irakli Metreveli
Tbilisi (AFP) Aug 09, 2007
Georgia attempted to rally international support Thursday behind its allegations that a Russian plane engaged in a missile strike on its territory, amid angry denials from Moscow. Georgia's minister for conflict resolution, David Bakradze, released a report he said was written by Europe's main security and democracy body, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

The report, which has not been released by the OSCE, says that military observers in Georgia at the time of Monday's incident saw one aircraft flying from the northeast.

"There is no other country than Russia to the northeast," said Bakradze.

Other monitors reported seeing a plane fly from southwest to northeast, the report said.

An OSCE spokeswoman in Vienna, Virginie Coulloudon, confirmed the document was genuine, but stressed that it was "an internal report that does not represent the position of the OSCE."

The United Nations Security Council said it would wait for more information before acting after the 4.8 metre (15.7-foot) missile landed in a field some 50 kilometres (30 miles) from the Georgian capital on Monday.

"We are looking forward to hear more about the facts ... from OSCE particularly ... so that would enable the Security Council to have a full picture of the situation before engaging any action," said a statement from Congolese ambassador to the UN Pascal Gayama, who is presiding over the Security Council this month.

The missile did not explode and caused no injuries, but Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili accused Russia of bombarding Georgia, raising the stakes in already tense relations between the pro-Western country and its Soviet-era master.

Meanwhile, Georgian Foreign Minister Gela Bezhuashvili engaged in a round of telephone diplomacy to try to secure the holding of a UN Security Council session to discuss the incident.

"The Georgian foreign ministry is working very actively to obtain adequate international support over this missile incident and the minister held a series of conversations with his foreign counterparts," his spokeswoman, Nino Kizhaia, said.

Russia has been infuriated by Georgia's preparations to join the Western-led NATO military alliance, regarding them as an incursion into its historical sphere of influence.

On Thursday a NATO spokeswoman said that the alliance's Deputy Secretary General Alessandro Minuto Rizzo had spoken by phone with Bezhuashvili.

"They agreed that NATO would stay in close contact with the Georgian authorities and that it will follow the ongoing investigations," said the spokeswoman, Carmen Romero.

But Russia again rejected claims that one of its jets had entered Georgian airspace and released a missile.

Senior air force officer Igor Khvorov told journalists in Moscow "we didn't plan or carry out any flights over Georgian territory.... It's fairly difficult to talk about the flight because there was none."

Russia also accused Georgia of tampering with evidence.

A senior Russian officer, Major General Marat Kulakhmetov, said that Georgian officials had removed "all the main pieces of the explosive device" before investigators arrived at the scene.

However, a spokesman for the Georgian interior ministry, Shota Khizanishvili, said that part of the missile had simply been destroyed for safety as it "contained a large quantity of TNT."

In a statement, the OSCE urged "an inclusive investigation" with "participation of all implicated parties."

Meanwhile the United States said it was looking into the incident.

Such "provocations need to end," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack warned.

Later Thursday another US official indicated on Georgian television that Washington did not believe assertions that Georgia had attacked itself.

"We listened to the statement that it was Georgia who bombarded its own territory. But there is no any evidence to say that this is the case," said Matthew Bryza, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.

"The most important thing is that Georgia undertake a credible investigation. Georgia has presented serious information which must now be examined within the United Nations," he said, according to comments translated first into Georgian and then back to English by AFP.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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