Press Statement by US State Department Spokesman R. Boucher, 28 November 2001
On Georgia, what we know of is that we have some confirmation that there were helicopters that entered Georgian air space from Russian territory, subsequently attacked areas on the Georgian side of the border in what's known as,
I think, the Pankisi Valley, Pankisi Gorge. There are unconfirmed reports now of two deaths on the ground in the
course of these attacks. We have consistently supported the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of Georgia. We are deeply concerned about these intrusions which undermine stability in this region, and we've raised the situation at senior levels with the Russian government in the past and will do so again in the near future.
LAS CRUCES, New Mexico (CNN) -- The White House issued a rare public criticism of Russia Saturday, saying there were "credible reports" it had violated Georgia's sovereignty and "indiscriminately bombed" villages, resulting in civilian deaths.
"The United States is deeply concerned about credible reports that Russian military aircraft indiscriminately bombed villages in northern Georgia on August 23, resulting in the killing of civilians ... The United States regrets this loss of life and deplores the violation of Georgia's sovereignty," the White House statement said.
Russia denied any responsibility for the bombing, saying its planes had not flown over the area on Friday.
"Russia's air force didn't cross the border, didn't fly over that region and didn't bomb anything," Russian air force spokesman Alexander Dobryshevsky told the Interfax news agency Friday.
The White House said Moscow's denial of any involvement in the bombing rang hollow because it said observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had witnessed the strikes.
The statement went on to say that Russia's denial belies past assurances from Moscow that it would honor Georgia's territorial borders and escalates tension between Russia and Georgia. The White House said the episode was a reminder of the urgent need for a political settlement to the conflict in Chechnya.
Secretary of State Colin Powell called Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov to voice Washington's displeasure, the White House said.
Russia has accused Georgia of harboring Chechen rebels, who use the rugged Russia-Georgia border region to stage attacks.
Georgian State Security Ministry spokesman Nika Laliashvili told Reuters in Tbilisi that a 65-year-old man was killed in the bombing and seven people were injured.
The bombing was close to the Pankisi Gorge, an area of great interest to Washington because of suspicions that it is a refuge for militant Islamists.
U.S. Special Forces advisers have been training the Georgian army since May to take on Islamic militants.
U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican and senior member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was "shocked and dismayed" at the Russian bombing.
"Russia needs to stop such activity immediately and apologize to the Georgian government for violating its airspace and engaging in activities that undermine peace and stability in the Caucasus," he said in a statement.
On Friday Georgia President Eduard Shevardnadze told Interfax: "If it will continue this way, Georgia will have to use all means to stop such bombings.
"Russia should stop hunting for Georgian villages and if the Russian president [Vladimir Putin] cannot control his own military forces, this is his problem."
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