Abkhazia Claims Downing Of Planes

ReutersA peacekeeper standing Saturday at a checkpoint controlled by Russian peacekeeping forces at the Inguri River, on Abkhazia's border with Georgia.
SUKHUMI, Georgia -- An official of the breakaway Georgian region of Abkhazia said its forces shot down two unmanned Georgian spy planes over the territory on Sunday.

Tension between Georgia and Russia, which has close ties to Abkhazia, has escalated since a similar incident two weeks ago. Georgia accused Moscow of shooting down a Georgian reconnaissance plane over Abkhazia. Russia denied involvement, and separatist Abkhazian officials said their forces shot it down.

Georgian Foreign Ministry official Maka Gigauri dismissed Sunday's claims as "completely absurd disinformation" aimed at increasing tension in the area.

Ruslan Kishmaria, a representative of Abkhazia's president in an eastern district of Abkhazia near Georgian-controlled territory, said two planes were shot down Sunday by Abkhaz anti-aircraft forces aided by aviation. Authorities were searching for fragments of the planes, he said.

Conflicting claims over aircraft downings have deepened tension between Georgia and Russia, which is strengthening its support for Abkhazia and another Georgian separatist region, South Ossetia and started sending extra peacekeeping troops there last week.

Russia says its military buildup is in response to Georgian deployments near the two breakaway regions and is aimed at protecting Russian citizens there. Georgia says it fears that Russia is preparing an "act of military aggression."

The United Nations, United States and NATO expressed concern late last week at the state of relations between Georgia and Russia.

UN spokeswoman Marie Okabe said Thursday that all actions by the parties and other countries should comply with Security Council resolutions affirming the support of all 192 UN member states for Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The Russia-led CIS peacekeeping force notified the UN observer mission in Georgia of the increase but did not specify troop numbers, so the UN cannot confirm the number of troops deployed, Okabe said. Itar-Tass reported Saturday that 2,000 CIS troops were based in the region and their number would be increased to 3,000.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised the recent tensions with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Friday at London meetings about the Middle East and Kosovo.