Overflights question Russia's Georgia role: NATO

BRUSSELS Tue Jul 15, 2008 6:47am EDT

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - NATO said on Tuesday it was troubled by Russian military overflights of Georgian territory, saying they called into question Moscow's role as a peacekeeper and facilitator of talks between Tbilisi and separatists.

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer urged all parties, including Russia, to support Georgian territorial integrity as called for in U.N. Security Council resolutions, alliance spokesman James Appathurai said.

"The secretary general is concerned by the recent escalation of tension in Georgia, he is troubled by Russia's statement that its military aircraft deliberately overflew Georgian territory in violation of its territorial integrity," Appathurai said.

"These actions raise questions about Russia's role as peacekeeper and facilitator of negotiations," he said, speaking on behalf of De Hoop Scheffer.

Georgia's pro-Western government last week recalled its ambassador in Moscow in protest at Russia sending fighter jets into Georgian airspace. Tbilisi urged the West to condemn Russia's actions.

Russia said the flights were to prevent Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili from launching a military operation against the separatist South Ossetia region.

It was Russia's first admission for at least a decade that its air force had flown over Georgian territory without permission. Georgia has said in the past that Russia trespassed in its airspace but Moscow has always denied it.

Early this year Russia established semi-official ties with the separatist administrations in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and beefed up the peacekeeping forces it has had in Abkhazia since the end of a war in the 1990s.

Georgia accused Russia of trying to annexe its territory and Tbilisi's Western allies said Russia was stoking tensions. Russia, angered by Georgia's hopes to join NATO and the European Union, said it acted to defend the breakaway regions from Georgian aggression.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Jon Boyle)

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