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Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia has shot down a Georgian surveillance
Georgia's breakaway republic of Abkhazia has shot down a Georgian surveillance drone, the fifth since the beginning of the year, the defense minister said on Thursday.

"We downed another [Georgian] drone over the village of Gudava in the Ochamchir district at about 17:10 Moscow time (13:10 GMT)," Merab Kishmaria said.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili immediately denied the report.

"I have just spoken with the [Georgian] defense minister," Saakashvili told reporters. "No plane has been downed."

Abkhazia earlier claimed its air defenses had shot down four Georgian surveillance drones this year, two on March 18 and April 20, and a further two on May 4.

The Georgian Foreign Ministry called Abkhazia's claims "absurd," and said they were aimed at escalating tensions in the region.

On April 20, Georgia accused Russia of shooting down an unmanned reconnaissance plane over Abkhazia, a claim Russia flatly denied, calling the video footage provided by Georgia a fake.

Relations between Moscow and Tbilisi have drastically deteriorated since the Kremlin called for closer ties between Moscow and the two Georgian breakaway republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in mid-April.

Moscow has increased the number of Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia to around 3,000 from 2,000, but said the rise was within the limits of agreements on troop numbers signed by the Georgian leadership.

Russia's Foreign Ministry said Georgia was to blame for fueling tensions in the conflict-stricken region by conducting reconnaissance flights over Abkhazian territory.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia broke away from Georgia in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Between 10,000 and 30,000 people were killed in the Georgian-Abkhazian conflict and some 3,000 in Georgian-South Ossetian hostilities. Georgia is looking to regain control over the two de facto independent republics.

Abkhazia's defense minister also said fragments of the downed plane had been found in a neighboring district, adding it was an Israeli-made Hermes 450 plane, similar to those hit earlier.

Earlier reports said Georgia had acquired a total of 40 drones, worth around $2 million each, from Israel between 2006 and 2008.


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