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Tue, Sep 05, 2006

Russian Defense Minister's Helo Brought Down By Rebels

US Senators Also Targeted In Recent Attacks

There are international calls for an investigation into Sunday's forced landing of a Georgian military helicopter, after it was apparently targeted by rebels in the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

Reuters reports Defense Minister Irakly Okruashvili wasn't hurt in the ordeal, although footage of the Mi-8 helicopter (file photo of type, above) showed several bullet holes on one side.

"A few shots were fired at the Georgian helicopter, but it managed to land on the territory controlled by the Georgian side. No one died," Paata Bedianishvili, commander of the Georgian battalion in the joint peacekeeping force in the area, told the independent Georgian Rustavi-2 television channel.

"For 10 to 15 minutes, we were actually plunging," said Okruashvili. "But the experience of the pilot saved the helicopter."

It's not the first time aircraft flying over or near Ossetia have been fired upon in recent days. In fact, Georgian authorities now say a helicopter carrying a US congressional delegation was fired upon by a surface-to-air missile August 28.

The helicopter carried Senators John Sununu, John McCain, Saxby Chambliss, Lindsey Graham, Mel Martinez and Richard Burr. The missile missed the helo.

Sununu told the Associated Press he wasn't aware of any security problems during the flight.

"We traveled with government security throughout our visit and I don't know of any member of the delegation that noted any concerns about preparedness or the capability of security provisions," he said.



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