Russian experts to take part in missile attack probe with Georgia -1

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Russian experts will take part in a probe into the alleged firing of a missile August 6 near Georgia's border with breakaway South Ossetia along with Georgia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.
(Recasts headline, lead, adds paragraph 2, details, background in paragraphs 4-8)

MOSCOW, August 15 (RIA Novosti) - Russian experts will take part in a probe into the alleged firing of a missile August 6 near Georgia's border with breakaway South Ossetia along with Georgia, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Wednesday.

The Caucasus state insists a Russian aircraft violated its airspace and dropped a missile at a Georgian radar near a village 65 kilometers (40 miles) northwest of Tbilisi. The missile did not explode, but further strained relations between the former Soviet allies. Russia has denied the charges as a provocation to disrupt peace efforts in the conflict zone.

The ministry said the Russian delegation, which includes the Air Force chief of staff, Defense Ministry experts and diplomats, would fly to Georgia August 16, "in line with an agreement" with Tbilisi. The ministry said it hoped the joint work would help shed light on the incident.

Russia's ambassador-at-large, Yury Popov, said Wednesday Georgia had invited Russian experts to contribute to the probe already being conducted by an independent commission, comprising specialists from the United States, Sweden, Lithuania and Latvia.

"The objective of bilateral expert-level consultations, as part of a probe into the incident, is to provide an unbiased version of what happened," the diplomat said.

The OSCE security and rights group's mission in Georgia sided with Tbilisi Tuesday, saying the Russian tactical bomber attacked the territory.

South Ossetia and Russian peacekeepers in the conflict zone said earlier the aircraft had come from Georgia and returned there.

Senior officials in both countries have exchanged angry rhetoric, accusing one another of staging the incident. Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov described the case as "another poorly directed theater production," with Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili retorting to the accusation as "total bull."

Relations between the two countries have been strained ever since pro-Western President Mikheil Saakashvili came to power on the back of the "rose revolution" mass protests in late 2003. Tbilisi has repeatedly accused Moscow of backing separatists in South Ossetia.

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