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Georgia Says Russian Drone Shot Down Near Gori

TBILISI (Reuters) -- Georgia has said it shot down a Russian reconnaissance drone just south of the breakaway region of South Ossetia, but Russia denied the claim and accused Tbilisi of "provocation."

If confirmed, it would be the first such incident since last month when Russian forces repelled a Georgian offensive to retake South Ossetia from pro-Moscow separatists.

"This is the latest media provocation by Georgia with the aim of destabilizing the situation in the region," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Drobyshevsky told Reuters.

"The aircraft of Russia's Defense Ministry have conducted no flights in the security zone," he said.

The Georgian Interior Ministry said the drone was shot down early on September 22 near the town of Gori, some 30 kilometers from the de facto border with South Ossetia, said Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili.

"It was flying over the territory between the villages of Khurvaleti and Tsitelutani," he said. "We believe it was patrolling the territory where the Baku-Supsa [oil] pipeline runs."

The ministry displayed what it said was the Russian drone during a news conference. The aircraft was around one meter in length and 1 1/2 meters wide.

Utiashvili said it was a short-range drone, and suggested it had been launched from Russian positions holding a "security zone" just a few kilometers north of Gori.

The Russian authorities could not confirm whether a drone had been shot down.

"I have no such information. When I have such information I will be able to comment," Aleksandr Drobyshevsky, head of the Russian Defense Ministry's press service, told Reuters.

Russian forces continue to hold positions inside undisputed Georgian territory after they repelled a Georgian assault in early August to retake South Ossetia from pro-Moscow separatists.

Under the terms of a French-brokered pullback deal, Russian forces are due to withdraw from the "security zones" adjacent to South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia, by October 10.