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Page last updated at 15:40 GMT, Tuesday, 16 September 2008 16:40 UK

Phone taps 'prove Georgia's case'

A Russian armoured vehicle enters the Roki tunnel, 24/08/08
The Roki Tunnel is a key route between Russia and South Ossetia

The Georgian government has released what it says is phone tap evidence that proves its assault on South Ossetia was sparked by Russian troop reinforcement.

It has previously claimed that heavy armour crossed from Russia into the breakaway region by the Roki Tunnel.

It has now provided recordings of what it says is a South Ossetian border guard reacting to the deployment.

There is no verification of the tapes. Russia has said any troop movements were routine peacekeeping activities.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko dismissed the Georgian claim as "not serious".

The conflict in the region began late on 7 August when Georgia tried to retake its breakaway region of South Ossetia by force after a series of lower-level clashes.

Russia launched a counter-attack and the Georgian troops were ejected from both South Ossetia and a second breakaway region, Abkhazia.

Georgia has said its actions were provoked by Russia pouring forces into South Ossetia. Russia says it was taken by surprise when Georgia bombarded the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali.

Russia 'moved first'

The New York Times says it has been provided by Georgia with audio files of the intercepts along with English translations, and that it also carried out its own translation.

The Associated Press news agency also said it had been played the tapes.

Georgia said the conversation between an Ossetian border guard and his superior officer at headquarters took place at 0352 on 7 August - hours before hostilities suddenly escalated.

"Listen, has the armour arrived or what?" the guard is asked.

"The armour and people," he replied.

Asked if they had passed through the tunnel he said: "Yes, 20 minutes ago; when I called you, they had already arrived."

Shota Utiashvili, an intelligence director at the Georgian interior ministry, told the New York Times: "These intercepted recordings show that Russia moved first and that we were defending ourselves."

The paper said it had shown the recordings to senior American officials, who said they appeared credible, if not conclusive as to the scale of any Russian deployment.

They also said the issue of who started the conflict was still being debated in Washington.


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