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Georgia Says It Fired On 'Russian' Plane

(RFE/RL) August 25, 2007 -- Georgian Interior Ministry official Shota Utiashvili has said a Russian military plane was fired on this week after it violated Georgian airspace.

Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili told AP late on August 24 that earlier this week "a Russian plane was fired on over Upper Abkhazia."

Utiashvili said residents reported hearing "an explosion" after Georgian forces fired on the plane near the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Utiashvili said he could not confirm if the plane was hit.

Abkhaz Confirmation

Reuters quoted the region's de facto foreign minister, Sergei Shamba, as confirming today that an unidentified plane went down over its territory this week. He said the plane came from the Black Sea and went down in the mountains of Upper Abkhazia, a Georgian-controlled region that includes parts of the Kodori Gorge.

"We believe it was a Georgian plane," Shamba told the news agency. "It has in the past repeatedly violated our airspace. It went down by itself, no one downed it."

Russian Air Force spokesman Aleksandr Drobyshevsky dismissed suggestions that it might have been a Russian jet as the latest "provocation" against Russia.

Interfax, meanwhile, quoted the head of Abkhazia's general staff, Anatoly Zaitsev, as saying the aircraft might have been a U.S. spy plane.

Georgian investigators have been dispatched to the Kodori Gorge to examine whether a plane was downed in the region.

Georgian television is citing two Kodori residents as saying they could see smoke above what they believed was a crash site.

Accusations Adding Up

On August 22, Georgia's Foreign Ministry said in a statement published on its official website that a fighter jet flying from Russia twice violated Georgian airspace on August 21.

Georgian antiaircraft systems tracked the incursions, which took place in the country's breakaway Abkhazia region. Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Vyacheslav Sedov, speaking to Reuters, denied the accusation.

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

Georgian Deputy Defense Minister Batu Kutelia said on August 22 that nine such violations had been recorded over the past three months.

The most serious claim came at the beginning of August, when Georgia claimed that a military jet entered its airspace from Russia and dropped or jettisoned a bomb near a village located near Georgia's border with its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Georgia's claim has been supported by two teams of international experts, but Russia has countered that Georgia fabricated the incident for political reasons.

(RFE/RL, agency reports)