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Georgia Says It Has Stopped Flights by Drones Over Abkhazia

During an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting Friday Georgia said it has suspended flights by unmanned vehicles over the breakaway region of Abkhazia. From VOA's New York Bureau, correspondent Barbara Schoetzau has the details.

The Council met to discuss the issue at the request of Georgia, which claims that a Russian jet shot down a drone flying over Abkhazia on April 20.

The United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia, UNOMIG, came to the same conclusion in a report earlier this week. Russia denies shooting down the drone. The report also criticized Georgia, saying surveillance flights violate a 1994 cease-fire agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi.

Georgia's U.N. ambassador, Irakli Alasania, says Tbilisi stopped the reconnaissance flights after the report was issued, but will not hesitate to resume the flights if threatened.

"It does not mean that we will not use these military capabilities, if the threat will occur in the region again, to gather the vital data for us to avert any kind of military provocation in the future," said Alasania. "At this point, since the report was out, we stopped our military UAVs overflights in the region."

Abkhazia is recognized as part of Georgia, but relations have been volatile since separatists drove out Georgian forces in the 1990s.

To resolve the conflict, Alasania says, Russia must stop its support for the breakaway region and halt its military build up in Abkhazia.

The Russians insist they were not involved in shooting down the drone, and say Abkhazia separatists were responsible. Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin says there were omissions in the U.N. observer mission report, and Moscow now wants to launch its own investigation, including foreign experts.

"For example, in the report, there is no evidence that the fighter crossed into the airspace of Georgia from the Russian Federation," he said. "There is nothing in the materials of the report of any conversations between the pilot of the fighter and the ground control, and experts tell me that it is virtually impossible to shoot down a drone with a missile from a fighter without communication between pilot and ground control. So, something is missing in the entire puzzle."

Russia wants representatives of Abkhazia to be present at the next meeting on the issue in July.