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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Mi-8 With UN Observers Shot Down in Abkhazia

TBILISI, Georgia -- Authorities in the breakaway region of Abkhazia in western Georgia said Monday that an Mi-8 helicopter was shot down over their territory, killing five United Nations military observers and four other people on board.

Vyacheslav Ankvad, deputy defense minister of the self-declared government, said all aboard the helicopter had been killed, although investigators had not yet reached the site where the helicopter crashed because of the mountainous terrain.

Alexandra George, political adviser to the UN mission in Tbilisi, confirmed that a helicopter was shot down but would not comment on whether there were survivors. Another UN representative in Tbilisi, who refused to be named, confirmed that all the people on board the helicopter had been killed.

Russia's Foreign Ministry also confirmed the deaths and said Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov sent condolences to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

The names and nationalities of the UN workers were not disclosed. Interfax said they were Swiss, German, French, Hungarian and Pakistani nationals.

All four crew members were Ukrainians, Abkhaz officials said.

Abkhaz officials claim a group of Chechen rebels and ethnic Georgian fighters have invaded the Kodor Gorge region of Abkhazia in recent days. Georgian government authorities claim no involvement in reported skirmishes there.

The Russian statement identified those responsible only as a "bandit group" and terrorists, and said Russia had warned Georgia repeatedly about the group.

"The policy of appeasement and tolerance conducted by the Georgian authorities toward the terrorists once again ended in tragedy," the Foreign Ministry said.

Itar-Tass reported that the helicopter was shot down by a rocket 15 minutes after taking off from the airport in the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi. Ankvad said Abkhaz officials witnessed two shots from a grenade-launcher.

The helicopter was shot down over territory "controlled by Chechen and Georgian terrorists who invaded Abkhaz territory from Georgia," said Sergei Shamba, the Abkhaz foreign minister, according to Interfax. Georgian officials said only that the helicopter had gone down in territory they do not control.

Georgia has denied Russian and Abkhaz allegations that it has allowed Chechen rebels to take refuge on its territory, though it has permitted refugees from the region's two wars to live there. Georgia is the only foreign country that borders on Chechnya.

Speaking in Tbilisi on Monday, President Eduard Shevardnadze indicated that Chechen rebels may in fact be in the Pankisi Gorge in northern Georgia as Russian officials have long asserted.

"In Pankisi, it needs to be cleared up, who is a refugee and who isn't. And we need to do that together with Russia," Shevardnadze said.