Helicopter carrying UN staff shot down

A helicopter carrying five United Nations military observers, four crew members and a translator was shot down over Georgia's breakaway Abkhazian region, killing everyone on board, defence officials said.

Vyacheslav Ankvad, the Deputy Defence Minister of the self-declared government, said no one had survived. He said that investigators had not yet reached the site where the MI-8 helicopter fell because of the mountainous terrain.

The Abkhazian foreign minister, Sergei Shamba, claimed the aircraft had been shot down over the Kodor Gorge region, which had been invaded by a group of Chechen rebels and ethnic Georgian fighters. Georgia claims no involvement in the reported skirmishes.

Russian news agency reports said the MI-8 was shot down by a rocket 15 minutes after taking off from the airport in the Abkhazian capital, Sukhumi. Mr Ankvad said Abkhaz officials had witnessed two shots from a grenade-launcher.

The UN confirmed the helicopter had been shot down. The names and nationalities of the passengers were not known but the crew was Ukrainian, Abkhazian officials said. (AP)

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