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Georgia: Russia bombed village

  • Story Highlights
  • Russia denied it bombed Georgia, said it hadn't violated its airspace
  • Georgian Interior Minister denounces Russia for "act of aggression"
  • Georgia claims 700 kg bomb hit Tsitelubani village, didn't explode; nobody hurt
  • Village lies about 65 km (40 miles) north-west of the Georgian capital Tbilisi
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From George Lomsadze
CNN
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TBILISI, Georgia (CNN) -- A pair of Russian fighter jets violated Georgian airspace firing a missile that landed near a village northwest of the capital, Tbilisi, Georgian authorities said. There were no casualties.

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Georgian specialists examine the remains of the rocket near Tsitelubani, South Ossetia, Georgia.

Russia, whose relationship with the western-leaning country has deteriorated in recent months, denied the incident late Monday, insisting its planes had not crossed into Georgian territory.

A statement from the Georgian Interior Ministry said the missile was fired as "SU-24 frontline bombers" flew over the country's Gori region before launching "air-surface precision-guided missiles" at the village of Tsitelubani.

"Our radars show that these jets flew from Russia and then flew back in the same direction that they had come from ..." Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told Reuters.

"I assess this fact as an act of aggression carried out by planes flown from the territory of another state," he added.

Shota Utiashvili, the head of the Georgian interior ministry's public relations department, earlier told Reuters that the Russian jets had dropped a 700-kilogram (1,543-lb) bomb. Video Watch Georgian officials inspect what they say are remnants of missile »

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"Fortunately it didn't explode. If it had exploded it would have been a disaster," he added. He said nobody was hurt.

A senior official in Russia's air force quickly denied the reports.

Col. Alexandr Drobyshevskiy, the assistant commander of Russia's air force, said Russian planes did not fly any missions in the area and did not violate Georgia's airspace.

Tsitelubani is located about 65 kilometer (40 miles) northwest of Tbilisi, and on the border of the breakaway region of South Ossetia. South Ossetia split with Georgia in the early 1990s.

Officials from the breakaway region were to meet with Georgian officials on Tuesday, but canceled the meeting after the alleged attack, claiming Georgia could not guarantee their safety. Tbilisi accused Moscow of trying to sidetrack the talks.

Russia provides moral and financial support for Georgia's rebel Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. It has accused Tbilisi of pursuing anti-Russian policies.

Georgia's previous administration, under ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze, accused Russia in 2002 of sending fighter jets on sorties over its territory, but Moscow denied any involvement.

At that time, Tbilisi alleged that Russian jets had dropped ordnance on uninhabited areas of the remote Pankisi Gorge in north-east Georgia, near the border with Russia.

Relations between Russia and Georgia deteriorated sharply again last year when Tbilisi deported four Russian army officers, accusing them of spying.

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Moscow responded by withdrawing its ambassador from Tbilisi and cutting air, sea and postal links with Georgia. Russia also deported several thousand Georgians, saying they were illegal immigrants.

Tension is still high but there have been tentative signs this year that the crisis was easing. Moscow's ambassador has returned to Tbilisi and the two sides have been in talks -- so far unsuccessful -- to restore air links. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

Reuters contributed to this report.

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