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22 Apr, 2008 00:17

Georgia behind Abkhazia tensions: Putin

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has accused Georgia of heightening tensions in Abkhazia by starting military flights over the conflict zone. It comes after Georgia accused Russia of shooting down its unmanned plane over Abkhazian territory.

The Russian leader’s reaction came in his telephone conversation with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili on Monday.

According to Georgia, one of its unmanned planes was on a regular reconnaissance flight when it was attacked by a Russian fighter jet. Georgia had previously denied all involvement, claiming they hadn’t sent a plane to the area. Abkhazia says Georgia’s statement acknowledging the flight is tantamount to an admission of spying.

Russia's Ambassador to Georgia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, says Georgian spy planes have been continually spotted in Abkhazian airspace throughout the last few weeks.

“From the beginning of April, Georgian unmanned spy planes have been constantly present in the security zone in violation of all existing agreements. I’ve received this information from Russian peacekeepers and UN observers,” he said.

Moscow, meanwhile, denies Georgia’s accusation that Russia is to blame for shooting down the plane and stresses that none of its planes were in the region at the time.

Colonel Aleksandr Drobyshevsky, Aide to the Airforce Commander-in-Chief, said all Russian Air Force pilots were off duty on Sunday and there were no Russian military planes flying over the North Caucasus.

Tbilisi, however, insists there is sound evidence that a Russian jet was involved in the incident.

It's not the first time Tbilisi has accused Russia of violating its airspace, with Moscow dismissing the accusations as fabrications.

The United Nations Security Council has scheduled a meeting for Wednesday to discuss Georgia's claims of alleged Russian military aggression.

Meanwhile, Abkhazia claims it was one of its own aircraft that destroyed the plane.