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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Blame in UN Probe of Gorge Attack

UNITED NATIONS -- A UN-led probe of an apparent ground and air attack on Georgia's disputed Kodor Gorge reached no conclusion on who was to blame, according to a report published Friday.

But some diplomats said the findings could support Georgian charges that Russian helicopters were involved in the March 11 attack in the gorge in the breakaway republic of Abkhazia. Russia has denied the allegation.

The area has been a long-standing flashpoint between Tbilisi and Moscow, which supports Abkhazia.

The inquiry was opened by a UN observer mission in Georgia, and with Georgian, Russian and Abkhaz officials all sitting on the panel, an open assignation of blame had never looked likely.

The group investigated the firing of rockets, mainly from ground launchers but including one that was thought to have come from a helicopter and damaged a local government building. No one was hurt by any of the rockets.

The Kodor Gorge is the de facto border between Abkhazia and Georgia. Its upper part is home to a local pro-Georgian administration, while the lower part is controlled by Abkhaz separatists. Russia lies to the north.

The cautiously phrased 25-page report stated that investigators had been unable to come to a conclusion on a range of aspects of the incident or that the findings were disputed.

One key issue was whether helicopters were involved. Critics of Moscow have said only Russian helicopter pilots have the skills to mount the nighttime attack in poor weather in the mountainous terrain.

Local residents interviewed by the panel reported seeing helicopters, and the remains of an anti-tank guided missile, known as an ATGM, fired at the building also pointed to their use, but here, too, the report hedged its words.

"The spent ATGM ... typically but not exclusively a helicopter delivered missile ... also indicates the presence of helicopters. ... Unfortunately no further evidence positively and conclusively denies or affirms the presence of helicopters," the report said.

Still, UN diplomats found that significant. "It suggests helicopters were used and were flown by pilots able to fly at night and launch missiles or act as spotters," said a Security Council diplomat who asked not to be further identified.

That made it unlikely Georgian, Abkhaz or Commonwealth of Independent States peacekeepers stationed in the area were responsible. "They just don't have that kind of capability," the diplomat said, adding that pointed the finger at Russia.

The report said most of the 16 ground craters it looked at were caused by rockets from Russian-made 122mm BM 21 launchers. Russia, Georgia and Abkhazia all possess Russian arms.

In comments added to the report, the panel head, Major-General N.M.K. Khattak of the UN mission, said the whole incident was "highly complex because of a number of tactical inconsistencies and an extremely difficult operating environment."