Russia rejects charges of drone shooting over Georgia

Russia on Friday rejected Georgia's charges that its jet fighter shot down a drone over Georgian territory, which contributed to high tensions between the two countries.

Russian and Georgian delegates clashed during a closed-door UN Security Council session, convened to hear charges by Georgia. The former Soviet republic already had been clashing with its powerful neighbour on the breakaway Georgian province Abkhazia, mostly inhabited by white Russians, and on the Russian-led peacekeeping mission in Abkhazia.

A UN report corroborated Georgia's claims based on radar shots and video footage from the downed drone.

But Russia points to leaders of the autonomous rebel region who said they shot down the spy plane on April 20, and counters that Georgia's reconnaissance flights over Abkhaz territory breach the UN ceasefire agreement that ended civil war in 1994.

Frayed relations between Tbilisi and Moscow hit a crisis point after Moscow moved last month to strengthen diplomatic ties and increase its peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia, where most residents have been issued Russian passports since 2000.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Friday the council meeting was "senseless." Lavrov, a former Russian ambassador to the UN, said the council should also include Abkhazian rebels in the debate.

"Without Abkhazia, tackling this problem is senseless. To refuse Abkhazia participation in these talks suggests something dirty about these proceedings," Lavrov was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying Friday.

In New York, Russian's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters the footage provided by Georgia on the shooting on April 20 was murky. He said Georgia's accusation that the drone was downed by a Russian jet fighter was "technically inconsistent."

"There was no evidence that a Russian plane crossed into Georgia," Churkin said. "There was something missing in the entire puzzle."

Churkin said Moscow stands ready to thoroughly investigate the incident.

"We are prepared to get international experts involved in the investigation," Churkin said. "It's not an isolated incident, but a culmination of actions by the Georgian side which has been building up tensions in the zone of conflict, sending up reinforcement and military equipment."

Churkin said Russia has been urging the security council to prevent bloodshed over the dispute in Abkhazia.

The council met at the request of Georgian UN Ambassador Irakli Alasania, who said the drone was shot down by the Russian military aircraft over the territory of Abkhazia on April 20 2008.

Alasania also denounced Russian interference into Georgia because the peacekeeping mission of the Commonwealth of Independent States in Abkhazia, once comprised of former Soviet republics, had become solely Russian. Alasania said Georgia had demanded that the mission be shifted to an international police force rather than a Russian force.

Alasania also invited UN Security Council members to visit the Abkhazia region, which has fought the government in Tbilisi and demanded an autonomous status, dpa reported.

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