Helicopter Carrying Georgian Defense Minister Shot down / News / News agency Inforos
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Helicopter Carrying Georgian Defense Minister Shot down

The minister has miraculously survived, but the fragile peace in the region has been put to the grave test

Helicopter Carrying Georgian Defense Minister Shot down
Sunday Mi-8 helicopter with Georgian defense minister Irakli Okruashvili aboard was shot down over South Ossetia. For about 15 minutes the distressed aircraft stayed in the dip regime. By a miracle, the pilot managed to land the damaged helicopter. According to the minister, he survived only thanks to the pilot's skill.

A spokesman for the South-Ossetian Information and Press Committee said the incident had taken place in the vicinity of the village of Vakhtana (Znauri District) at 15:37 on September 3, 2006. The Georgian helicopter had flagrantly violated the air space over the Georgian – South-Ossetian conflict zone, defiantly refusing to obey orders from the ground control to change course. Then the Mi-8 opened machine-gun fire on South-Ossetian military personnel, and an exchange of fire ensued. Aboard the helicopter were the Georgian defense minister and deputy chief of general staff.

After the incident in the South-Ossetian skies, the Georgian side, as usual, put all the blame on the authorities of the self-proclaimed republic and the Russian peacekeepers. Georgian prime-minister Zurab Nogaideli said that the shelling of the helicopter was a pre-planned provocation wherein the Combined Peacekeeping Force (CPF) took part.

In response to these absurd accusations, an official spokesman of the Russian peacekeepers pointed out that lately Georgian military aircraft have been making systematic and openly provocative flights over the Georgian – South-Ossetian conflict zone. Moreover, such actions breached the decisions of the Combined Control Commission for the Settlement of the Georgian – South-Ossetian Conflict (Protocol 24), dated July 30, 2002.

For his turn, Commander of the Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia Maj.-Gen. Marat Kulahmetov said that the Georgian side was in fact trying to shift the blame. He did not rule out that Georgia's latest actions were linked to the forthcoming presidential elections in the Republic of South Ossetia.

At the same time, the command of the peacekeeping force has officially condemned the shelling of the helicopter. According to the Russian peacekeepers, the use of weapons against the Mi-8 by the South-Ossetian side in peacetime was a flagrant violation of the ceasefire agreements signed by the parties.

Meanwhile, South-Ossetian officials say that during the last five months Georgian military aircraft committed 240 violations of the air space over the Georgian – South-Ossetian conflict zone. In the concrete latest instance, it was firing back at Mi-8, say officials of the South-Ossetian foreign and defense ministries.

Thus, South-Ossetian defense minister Anatoly Barankevich said that it was not only the Georgian helicopter violating South-Ossetia's air space, but also its pilots ignoring, for half an hour, the orders to change course. "Moreover, the Mi-8 opened machine-gun fire on South-Ossetian servicemen, so the South-Ossetian side had to fire back. As a result, the helicopter was shot down".

The incident with the shooting down of the Georgian helicopter has seriously aggravated the situation in South Ossetia. Local sources report that Georgia has begun redeployment of troops in the immediate vicinity of the conflict zone. At present, Russian peacekeeping units have been put on red alert, and the South-Ossetian leadership has also taken adequate measures.
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