Georgia denies spy planes downed in breakaway region

Updated: 2008-05-04 23:56

MOSCOW  -- Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia said on Sunday that it has shot down two unmanned Georgian spy planes, a claim rejected by the Georgia government, according to reports reaching here.

"The planes were flying at an altitude of 7,000 meters and were downed by our air defense system," RIA Novosti cited an Abkhaz official, Ruslan Kishmariya, as saying.

Abkhaz regional leader Sergei Bagapsh and defense officials have confirmed the downing.

Georgia's Foreign Ministry, as well as the Interior and Defense ministries, have denied the reports.

"The information is untrue. It is a provocation aimed at exacerbating the situation in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone," Interfax cited a diplomatic official of the Caucasus country as saying.

Russia on Sunday blamed Georgia for raising tensions in Abkhazia by sending spy planes over the Black Sea strip.

"By resorting to the adventurism of sending in surveillance drones and stepping up military preparations in the conflict zones, Tbilisi has knowingly embarked upon the path of raising tensions in the region," the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

"The responsibility for the consequences of such a course lies with Georgia," RIA cited the ministry as saying.

It's the second report of shooting down Georgian spy planes over Abkhazia since April.

Georgia said on April 21 that one of its unmanned reconnaissance aircraft was shot down near Abkhazia by a Russian MiG-29 fighter jet. Moscow rejected the allegation, saying it was destroyed by an Abkhazia jet.

Separatists in Abkhazia self-proclaimed independence after bloody conflicts with Georgian government forces in the 1990s and an uneasy ceasefire was monitored by peacekeepers from Russia.

Tensions between Russia and Georgia were escalating due to Russia's increasing supports to Abkhazia and Tbilisi's bid for NATO membership.

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