Monday, September 04, 2006


The Georgian Interior Ministry said a helicopter accompanying a delegation of U.S. senators, including New Hampshire's John Sununu, was fired on last month with a surface-to-air missile from the separatist territory of South Ossetia.

A ministry statement said the shooting took place Aug. 28 and that the helicopter was not damaged.

Defence Minister Irakly Okruashvili had to make an emergency landing after his helicopter was shot at ... The aircraft was riddled with bullets, but no one was hurt.

The helicopter was accompanying Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and a U.S. delegation led by Sen. John McCain, the statement said.

In addition to Sununu, the delegation included Sens. Saxby Chambliss, a Georgia Republican, Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican, Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican, and Richard Burr, a North Carolina Republican.

The ministry said U.S. authorities were informed of the incident. There was no immediate comment from Washington or the senators.

A statement from that nation’s interior ministry says the surface-to-air missile was aimed at a chopper involved in a visit of a U.S. Senate delegation to the former Soviet republic. McCain was mentioned as the leader of the group.

The president of Georgia, Mikhail Saakashvili, is a strong ally of the U.S. He is also trying to re-establish control over two regions of the country trying to break away from the central government.

Word of this missile launch was made as part of a statement about a Sunday attack on a helicopter carrying Georgia’s defense minister. His aircraft was damaged by large-caliber machine gun fire and forced to make an emergency landing. No one was injured.

Georgia deliberately provoked separatist forces in its South Ossetia region into firing on a helicopter carrying the Georgian defence minister, a senior Russian diplomat said on Monday.

Georgian Prime Minister Zurab Nogaideli said the attack on the helicopter was a "provocation" by the separatists and their Russian backers. Russia has peacekeeping troops in South Ossetia

The separatist administration was defiant on Sunday. It said its troops now had orders to shoot down, without warning, any aircraft trespassing in its airspace.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore said she had no information about the incident.

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