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Abkhazia Claims Shootdown of 2 Georgian Spy Drones


Pro-Russian separatists in Georgia's Abkhazia region say they have shot down two Georgian spy drones over the breakaway region Sunday. However, Georgia has denied launching any flights in the area.

The claim and denial come two weeks after a Georgian drone was downed in the same area, heightening already-strained relations between Russia and Georgia.

Russia's Itar-Tass news agency says one of today's claimed shootdowns occurred over the Ochamchira region of Abkhazia. Georgian television reports groundfire in the area and says some Russian peacekeepers have been taken prisoner. The Rustavi television report has not been confirmed.

Tensions between Georgia and Russia rose last month after Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered his government to establish closer links with Abkhazia and a second breakaway Georgian border region, South Ossetia.

On April 20th - days after the Putin order was reported - Georgia accused Russian forces of shooting down a reconnaissance drone over Abkhazia. Georgia televised a video it says shows a Russian fighter jet downing the drone. Moscow denies involvement and says the video was fabricated.

Moscow also contends the April 20 Georgian drone flight violated a 1994 international ceasefire agreement for Abkhazia. That pact permitted Russian peacekeepers in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Moscow has drawn international criticism for bolstering its military presence in the two Georgian regions. Moscow calls its move a response to a Georgian troop buildup near the breakaway regions.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia declared independence from Georgia in the early 1990s, sparking fighting and the dispatch of Russian peacekeepers. Many residents in the regions hold Russian passports. Georgia says the peacekeepers side with the separatists, and has pledged to bring both regions back under central government control.

Some information for this report was provided by AP and Reuters.

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