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Georgia/Russia: U.S., EU Urge Restraint Amid Abkhazia Tensions

(RFE/RL) The United States and the European Union have urged restraint following the latest incident between Georgia and its Moscow-backed separatist region of Abkhazia.

Tension between Russia and Georgia escalated further on May 4 after Abkhaz separatists said they had shot down two unmanned Georgian spy planes.

Georgia's Foreign Ministry the same day denied sending any such aircraft to the separatist region, dismissing the claim as "absurd disinformation."

"Nothing happened this time," said Konstantine Gabashvili, the head of the Georgian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee. "This is a typical Russian attempt at spreading misinformation to make everyone believe that Georgians are taking aggressive steps and are responsible for escalating the military situation there."

But Moscow, which backs Abkhazia's self-proclaimed government, was quick to lash out at Tbilisi. The Russian Foreign Ministry said the flights were illegal and accused Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's government of "deliberately stroking tensions."

Abkhazia, a small territory along the Black Sea cost, is at the center of a ongoing struggle for influence between Georgia and Russia.

The row has been threatening to spill into armed conflict since Tbilisi on April 20 accused Moscow of shooting down an unmanned Georgian reconnaissance plane over Abkhazia. Russia dismissed that claim.

Outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin in April also ordered closer ties with the two breakaway provinces, a move Georgia condemned as a step toward annexation.

Last week, Russia boosted its peacekeeping contingent in Abkhazia to counter what it says are Georgian plans for a military attack.

Ties between the two countries have been strained for more than a decade due to Moscow's support for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two regions that broke away from Georgian central government control in wars in the early 1990s.

Russia has yet to recognize the two regions' sovereignty, despite supplying them with financial backing, Russian passports, and peacekeeping forces.

Saakashvili insists he has no intention to use force but has vowed to bring back the separatist regions back into the fold.

The escalation comes amid Saakashvili's increased efforts to lead his country into the NATO military alliance, a move fiercely opposed by Moscow.

It has sparked concern in the West, with the White House calling for restraint and urging both sides to avoid "actions that would increase tensions."

The European Union has called on all sides to "take action to rebuild confidence."

with additional agency material

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