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US Concerned over Russia's Bombing of Georgian Villages - 2002-08-24

The Bush administration says it is "deeply concerned" about reports that Russian military aircraft bombed villages in northern Georgia. Tensions between Russia and Georgia are growing over Moscow's demands that Georgia crackdown on Chechen separatists.

The White House is criticizing Russia for violating Georgian airspace during Friday's bombardment which killed at least one person and wounded several others.

A Russian Air Force spokesman denied that Russian aircraft entered Georgian air space and said Moscow is prepared to provide data showing its planes did not cross the border.

In a written statement, the White House press secretary said the attack, and Russia's denial, undermine earlier promises by Moscow to respect Georgia's independence and escalate existing tensions over Chechen rebels.

The Bush administration again called urgently for a political settlement to the conflict in Chechnya saying it would promote stability between Russia and Georgia and help fight terrorism in the region.

The Russian Foreign Ministry Saturday said Georgia's government is being too soft on Chechen rebels, saying they must be disarmed and handed over to Russia.