Georgia launches probe into alleged firing by Russian forces

By RIA Novosti,

Moscow : Georgia Tuesday said it has launched a criminal investigation into the Sunday’s alleged firing by Russian troops at the motorcade of the Polish and Georgian presidents.

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“On Nov 23 shots were fired from a checkpoint manned by Russian occupying forces in the village of Odzisi in the Akhalgori district (of South Ossetia) at the motorcade of Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who was on a visit to Georgia,” Georgian foreign ministry said in a statement.

“Armed individuals at the post opened fire as soon as the presidential motorcade approached,” the ministry said, adding that the checkpoint from which the shots were fired is located “in the heart of Georgia, in violation of the six-point ceasefire agreement”.

However, Georgia’s account of the incident has been met with skepticism by some officials in Poland, while Russia described shooting was staged as part of Georgian propaganda.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s report of the alleged Russian attack has been ridiculed by several lawmakers in Poland, including the parliamentary speaker.

Polish parliament Speaker Bronislaw said: “In a threatening situation, the president is immediately put inside the car, and the car drives off, as the president is protected by a bodyguard. But here we saw both presidents standing and talking, and it seems one of them (Saakashvili) was laughing. This raises many questions.”

Komorowski, a former defence minister, also said it must have been a “blind sniper” who fired shots from 30 meters away, but missed altogether, and termed the alleged incident as “not serious”.

Komorowski’s comments prompted President Lech Kaczynski Monday to voice concern of a “pro-Russian lobby” in Poland. He gave his own account of the incident, saying shots had been fired from what sounded like Kalashnikovs, but that it was not clear who was targeted.

He also called on the rest of the European Union (EU) to draw “proper conclusions” from the attack.

Kaczynski was in Georgia to take part in celebrations of the fifth anniversary of the “rose revolution” that brought Saakashvili to power.

Commenting on Sunday’s shooting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the attack was “a clear provocation” staged by Georgia. “They arrange provocations and then blame Russia,” he said.

South Ossetia has also strongly denied that its forces fired shots. The EU and NATO voiced concern over the incident Monday, but stopped short of accusing Russia.

South Ossetia, along with Georgia’s other disputed province, Abkhazia, were recognised by Russia as independent states in August following Georgia’s attack on South Ossetia and the ensuing five-day Georgia-Russia war.

Since the conflict, Moscow has withdrawn all troops from undisputed Georgian territory, and an EU mission is monitoring a ceasefire in the area. Shootings and attacks are frequently reported in the region, with Georgia and South Ossetia blaming each other for the outbreaks of violence.