Page last updated at 11:59 GMT, Thursday, 27 September 2007 12:59 UK

Georgia condemns Russian 'terror'

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili (file)
Mikhail Saakashvili accuses Russia of meddling in Georgia

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili has accused Russia of leading "terror" missions on his country's territory.

In a speech to the United Nations, he said a man killed by Georgian forces in the breakaway Abkhazia region last week had turned out to be a Russian colonel.

Russia's UN ambassador retorted that the man and another killed at the same time were "anti-terrorist" instructors.

Georgia accuses Russia of trying to destabilise it and of backing Abkhazia's bid for independence.

Mr Saakashvili said on Wednesday:

"One has to wonder - what was a lieutenant-colonel of the Russian military doing in the Georgian forests, organising and leading a group of armed insurgents on a mission of terror?

"I want to ask our Russian friends - is there not enough territory in Russia? Are there not enough forests in Russia for Russian officers not to die in Georgian territory, in Georgian forests?"

Tense relationship

Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told reporters immediately after the speech to the UN General Assembly that the men were instructors at an "anti-terrorist training centre", and were killed at close quarters with knives and gunshots to the head.

Georgian soldier in South Ossetia, watched by Russian troops
Georgian and Russian forces are deployed in South Ossetia

"This to us is another manifestation of the course of action which regrettably the Georgian authorities have taken lately... They have been doing everything to aggravate tensions," he said.

Georgia's relationship with Russia has grown increasingly fraught after mass street protests brought Mr Saakashvili to power in 2003.

The American-educated president favours strengthening Georgia's ties with the West and Nato - a policy that has irked Moscow.

Georgia meanwhile accuses Russia of backing the separatist ambitions of its breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Assassination claim

Heavy firing was reported on Wednesday night near the main city in South Ossetia, Tskhinvali.

Georgian forces say they were responding to an attack by South Ossetian separatists. However, a South Ossetian spokeswoman said Georgian troops opened fire first.

Two people are said to have been hurt.

Separately, a former Georgian defence minister said on Wednesday that President Saakashvili had instructed him to kill a leading businessman.

Irakli Okruashvili, a former ally of the president's, said he had been told to kill Badri Patarkatsishvili but the plan never materialised.

An associate of Mr Saakashvili said the accusation was "baseless and untrue".

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