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Georgia: Russia dropped bomb on village

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: Russia denied it bombed Georgia, said it hadn't violated its airspace
  • NEW: Georgian Interior Minister denounces Russia for "act of aggression"
  • Georgia claims 700 kg bomb hit Tsitelubani village, didn't explode; nobody hurt
  • Village lies about 65 km (40 miles) north-west of the Georgian capital Tbilisi
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TSITELUBANI, Georgia (Reuters) -- Jets flown from Russia fired an air-to-surface missile at Georgian territory in an "act of aggression", Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili told Reuters on Tuesday.

Russia, which has a long history of tense relations with the former Soviet republic, denied that its airforce had flown missions in Georgian air space.

"Our radars show that these jets flew from Russia and then flew back in the same direction that they had come from ..." Merabishvili said.

"I assess this fact as an act of aggression carried out by planes flown from the territory of another state," he added.

Georgian officials say the ordnance hit the village of Tsitelubani, about 65 km (40 miles) west of the capital, Tbilisi, but did not explode.

Shota Utiashvili, the head of the Georgian interior ministry's public relations department, earlier told Reuters that the Russian jets had dropped a 700 kilo (1,543 lb) bomb.

"Fortunately it didn't explode. If it had exploded it would have been a disaster," he added. He said nobody was hurt.

Russia's airforce denied that it had bombed Georgia, and said it had not violated its airspace.

"Russia's airforce neither on Monday nor Tuesday flew flights over Georgia," Colonel Alexander Drobyshevsky, the aide to the commander of Russia's airforce, told Reuters.

"Russia has not violated the borders of sovereign Georgia."

The village of Tsitelubani is near the city of Gori, and a few kilometers to the south of Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region, a long-standing cause of friction between Russia and Tbilisi.

Russia provides moral and financial support for Georgia's rebel Abkhazia and South Ossetia regions. It has accused Tbilisi of pursuing anti-Russian policies.

Georgia's previous administration, under ousted President Eduard Shevardnadze, accused Russia in 2002 of sending fighter jets on sorties over its territory, but Moscow denied any involvement.

At that time, Tbilisi alleged that Russian jets had dropped ordnance on uninhabited areas of the remote Pankisi Gorge in north-east Georgia, near the border with Russia.

Relations between Russia and Georgia deteriorated sharply again last year when Tbilisi deported four Russian army officers, accusing them of spying.

Moscow responded by withdrawing its ambassador from Tbilisi and cutting air, sea and postal links with Georgia. Russia also deported several thousand Georgians, saying they were illegal immigrants.

Tension is still high but there have been tentative signs this year that the crisis was easing. Moscow's ambassador has returned to Tbilisi and the two sides have been in talks -- so far unsuccessful -- to restore air links. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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