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Monday, 8 October, 2001, 09:15 GMT 10:15 UK
UN helicopter shot down in Georgia
The authorities in the breakaway region of Abkhazia, in Georgia, say a helicopter carrying United Nations observers has been shot down.

Abkhaz officials say there were five UN observers on board, one translator and a three-man crew.


We all saw it explode. Of course they are all dead

Abkhaz Defence Ministry official
The helicopter was making an inspection flight over the mountainous Kodori Gorge, said by Abkhaz officials to be controlled by Chechen and Georgian guerrillas.

The Georgian Government has denied that its troops have entered the area.

The Itar-Tass news agency reported that the helicopter was hit by a rocket at 0915 (0515 GMT) 15 minutes after taking off from the Abkhazian capital, Sukhumi.

Chechen commander

The UN monitors - introduced after Abkhaz forces drove Georgian troops out of Abkhazia in 1993 - stopped inspecting the gorge after a kidnapping incident in December.

This was their first flight back into the gorge.

"We all saw it explode. Of course they are all dead," an official at the Abkhaz Defence Ministry told Reuters news agency.

Abkhazian authorities say the Chechen field commander Ruslan Gelayev tried to take control of an Abkhaz village last week.

They say the militants were beaten back and took refuge in the Kodori Gorge.

Refuge

Reports of the rebels' move into Abkhazia come after Russian pressure on Georgia to stop Chechen rebels taking refuge inside Georgia, in the region near the border with Chechnya.

The area, populated by Georgia's own Chechen minority, is very hard for Georgian authorities to police.

Historically, the Chechens and the Abkhaz - both Caucasian mountain peoples - have maintained a warm relationship.

Chechens fought on the Abkhaz side in the war with Georgia, gaining experience they then put into use against Russian forces during the conflict that began in 1994.

See also:

13 Oct 99 | Europe
UN observers abducted in Abkhazia
03 Jul 01 | Media reports
Georgia and Russia spar over army base
24 Sep 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: Georgia
05 Jun 01 | Europe
Timeline: Georgia
16 Mar 00 | Europe
The Caucasus: Troubled borderland
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