Georgia, Poland claim Russian troops fired at presidents

November 24th, 2008 - 3:55 am ICT by IANS  

Tbilisi (Georgia), Nov 24 (DPA) The Georgian government said Sunday that Russian patrol personnel fired shots at a motorcade carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from the airport in Tbilisi to a settlement near the Ossetian border.Russian and South Ossetian defence officials rejected the claims. Russia’s military leadership said that Russian soldiers were under no circumstance involved in the incident.

The South Ossetian Defence Ministry called the Georgian claims disinformation. However, the Polish government confirmed the Georgian reports. None of the reports spoke of any injuries.

The convoy returned to Tbilisi after the gunfire, reported the Polish Press Agency PAP.

The settlement of Metechi, about 40 km north of Tbilisi, was to be Kaczynski’s first stop during a visit to Georgia, where he was going to open housing built for refugees of this summer’s war between Russia and Georgia.

At a Tbilisi press conference, Kaczynski said he did not believe the incident had been orchestrated by the Georgians to make Russia look bad. He said he heard Russian being spoken as the shots were being fired.

Kaczynski said the incident is proof that the EU-brokered peace agreement between Russia and Georgia is not being kept, the Interfax news agency reported. A Polish official said he heard the sound of three salvos being fired.

Alexander Lomaia, head of the Georgian Security Council, said Russian forces had “endangered the lives of both presidents.” Although it remains unclear whether the shots were fired directly at the presidents or up into the air, he called the Russian behaviour “irresponsible”.

“We were travelling along a mountain road in the direction of Ossetia. We stopped and didn’t make it to our destination, and now we’re returning to Tbilisi,” said a PAP journalist who was travelling with Kaczynski. “We heard shots. We don’t know what happened.”

A Polish presidential minister told PAP the incident occurred at a spot that, according to a peace plan for the Georgia-Russian conflict, “should be in Georgian hands,” and that Russian soldiers were, “at a distance of 30 metres from the president.”

However, the whole area has been extremely unstable since the war in August. There are almost daily shootings and bombings in the buffer zones that separate Georgia from its breakaway republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, leading to multiple deaths and injuries.

About 200 European Union observers operate in the buffer zones surrounding the breakaway regions. However, there has been no EU reaction as of yet.

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