Page last updated at 17:47 GMT, Thursday, 10 July 2008 18:47 UK

Russia admits Georgia overflights

Russian Su-27 fighter jet
Russia and Georgia have traded accusations of overflights

Russian military jets flew over the breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia this week, the Russian foreign ministry says.

A statement said the flights had been ordered to "prevent bloodshed".

Moscow has previously denied accusations of overflights.

Tension has been rising over South Ossetia between the pro-Western Georgian government and separatists supported by Russia.

'Hot heads'

Russia said it ordered the flights because it believed the Georgian government was preparing to attack the rebel region.

"The need arose to take urgent and active measures to prevent bloodshed and keep the situation within peaceful bounds," a Russian foreign ministry statement said.

"To clarify the situation, aircraft of the Russian air force carried out a brief flight over the territory of South Ossetia," it added.

"As subsequent events showed, this step allowed (us) to cool hot heads in (the Georgian capital) Tblisi and prevent events developing along military lines," the statement said.

Stoking tension

The overflight was ordered less than 24 hours before the United States Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, was due to arrive in Georgia to show support for the former Soviet state.

Ms Rice has warned Russia against stoking tension in Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Speaking in Tbilisi, Ms Rice said Russia should help resolve tensions instead of contributing to them.

Standing alongside Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, Ms Rice said: "It is very important that all parties reject violence as an option. There must be a peaceful solution.

"It is extremely important that the conflicts in Abkhazia and South Ossetia be resolved on the basis of principles that respect that territorial integrity of Georgia," she added.

Six people have been killed in violence in the region in the past week.

Georgia and Russia have previously accused each other of flying jets over South Ossetia, violating a ceasefire.

Orchestrating violence

Russian and UN peacekeepers have been deployed in the region since the early 1990s, when violence erupted as separatists sought to break free from Georgian control.

Georgia accuses Russia of backing the separatists and seeking to absorb the territories.

Russia has accused Georgia of bringing the region to the brink of armed conflict, and of orchestrating violence in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia says it just wants protect the interests of Russian citizens who make up the majority of the population in both regions.

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