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Russian experts dismiss Georgia's evidence in missile dispute

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TBILISI, August 17 (RIA Novosti) - Tbilisi, which accused Russia of dropping a missile near a Georgian village last Monday, provided parts of different missiles to visiting Russian experts investigating the incident, a Russian military official said.

Russian experts were shown parts of the unexploded missile in Tbilisi after examining the site of the incident, 40 miles northwest of the Georgian capital and close to the border with breakaway South Ossetia. The dispute has become the latest source of tension between the former Soviet allies.

Speaking at a news conference, Air Force Colonel Pavel Akulyonok said: "We were shown parts of different missiles. Some of them belonged to a [Soviet-made] X-58 missile. Its wings are made of titanium, but we were shown wings of a different material."

He also said there were traces of mechanical cutting, not damage caused as a result of ground impact, which would have occurred if the missile had been dropped from a plane.

Georgia did not permit the Russian experts to take parts of the missile to Moscow for further tests.

Maj. Gen. Sergei Nuzhin said that during the Soviet era, X-58 missiles had been stored in Georgia, and some of them may have been stolen.

Earlier on Friday, the chief of staff of Russia's Air Force, Gen. Igor Khvorov, flatly denied Tbilisi's claims that Russian aircraft violated Georgian airspace on August 6.

"There was no unsanctioned border crossing," Khvorov told a briefing in the Russian Embassy in the South Caucasus nation's capital. "Services on duty were working in normal mode."

The general also said evidence that could have explained the situation had been destroyed. "Clues, including the number of the rocket, have been eliminated along with the fuse of the unexploded missile," he said, adding that two thirds of the missile parts were also missing.

Moscow, which Tbilisi has accused of backing separatists in South Ossetia, has called the incident a "new provocation" staged by Tbilisi to destabilize the region. South Ossetia echoed the accusations, saying the aircraft came from Georgia's side.

Tbilisi has demanded that the European Union step in and the UN Security Council hold an emergency session on the matter. An international group of independent experts from the United States, Sweden, Lithuania and Latvia have also been working at the site and have been quoted by Georgian officials as saying Russia had violated Georgian airspace.

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