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27 May, 2008 14:43

Georgia calls on Russia to pay for downed drone

Tbilisi says Moscow should apologise and pay compensation after a UN report concluded that a Russian jet shot down a Georgian drone over the breakaway republic. Georgia also wants Russia to withdraw additional peacekeepers sent to the region.

The UN report contradicts the claim made by Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia that it shot down the spy plane on April 20.

Tbilisi has released a video claiming to show a Russian plane attacking the drone.

“After the act of aggression committed by Russia was proven, the Georgian side strongly demands official explanations,” said Georgia’s Deputy FM Grigol Vashadze .

Moscow strongly denies any of its planes were in the area, saying the tape was questionable. It wants access to the ‘evidence’ that led the UN observer mission in Georgia to conclude it was a Russian aircraft that shot down a the spy drone.

Abkazian Defence Minister Merab Kyshmaria says its own forces were responsible for the incident and that the report is biased. The breakaway region has threatened to pull out of the UN-brokered peace talks with Georgia.

“Aircraft that fly over Abkhazian territory, especially in security zones, are shot down by us. Our jets might be made by Russia but we own them and we shot down that drone,” Kyshmaria said.

But Tbilisi rejects this. And on Monday the United Nations observer mission to Georgia issued a statement saying it believes Tbilisi’s version of the events.

Russia’s Foreign minister Sergey Lavrov says the footage has many inconsistencies and is urging further investigation.

“The footage of the drone that our experts were able to capture from the Georgian TV raised certain questions. We made those questions public some time ago, but as of now have received no answers,” Lavrov said at a press-conference following talks with his Danish counterpart.

Russia's ambassador to Georgia, Vyacheslav Kovalenko, says he does not “question the professionalism of the UN officials, but the evidence given to them was questionable”.

Georgia calls the UN observer mission's report ‘proof’ that Russia was responsible for the incident, but Moscow is unlikely to offer any compensation or apologies for something it denies.

And since Tbilisi insists it will carry on sending surveillance drones to Abkhazia, the debate may well drag on.