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Second Probe Upholds Georgian Missile Accusations

Russian UN Ambassador Churkin called the initial claims a 'flagrant distortion' (file photo) (AFP) August 22, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A group of experts has upheld Georgia's claims that a military jet illegally entered its airspace from Russia and dropped or jettisoned a missile before flying back to Russia.

The missile landed in a cornfield near Georgia's border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia, but did not explode.

The findings released by the group of experts from Britain, Poland, and Estonia corroborate the results of a previous international investigation into the August 6 incident.

Georgian Foreign Ministry spokesman Davit Dondua told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that both international probes were independent and impartial.

"Both of these groups were created at Georgia's initiative," Dondua said. "The aim of these international experts was to conduct an independent investigation. Independent here means the nonparticipation of any party that could be seen as biased. To ensure that the report was going to be impartial, neither Georgia nor Russia were invited to this group. This is important."

Russia has consistently denied violating Georgian airspace and accused Tbilisi of fabricating the story.

Russia Dismisses Incident As 'Provocation'

Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, on August 21 cast doubt on radar data provided by Georgia and called the claims a provocation against Moscow.

"On the whole, information and facts gathered by Russian experts during their work in Georgia on August 16 and 17, and the behavior of our Georgian colleagues, make it possible to state with full confidence that the incident of August 6 was a deliberate provocation organized and carried out by those in Georgia who are interested in aggravating the situation," Churkin said.

Churkin said Georgia failed to consult with Russian experts, and accused Tbilisi of deliberately hampering the Russian investigation by covering up the crater where the missile was found.

Georgia's Deputy Foreign Minister Merab Antadze today condemned Churkin's comments as "shameless Soviet diplomacy."

New Incident Reported

And in the latest twist to the dispute, Georgia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement published on its official website that on August 21 a fighter jet flying from Russia twice violated Georgian airspace.

Georgian antiaircraft systems tracked the incursions, which took place in Georgia's breakaway Abkhazia region.

The statement said an official note of protest demanding an explanation had been sent to Russia's Foreign Ministry.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Vyacheslav Sedov, speaking to Reuters, denied the accusation.

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