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Report of UNOMIG on the situation of 20 April involving the downing Georgian unmanned aerial vehicle over the zone of conflict

Countries
Georgia
Sources
UNOMIG
Publication date
Origin
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Introduction

1. On 20 April 2008, the Abkhaz side informed UNOMIG that at 9:57 the same day one of their fighter jets L-39 had shot down with an air-to-air missile a Georgian unmanned aircraft that had entered Abkhaz-controlled territory in violation of the Moscow agreement on the ceasefire and separation of forces of 1994. After initially denying that a Georgian UAV flew on that day, the Georgian government subsequently acknowledged that one of their mid-size Hermes 450 had been downed over Abkhaz-controlled territory and claimed that a Russian aircraft had destroyed the aircraft.  The Georgian authorities released a video reportedly shot by the UAV showing the unmanned vehicle being tracked and destroyed by a jet fighter. (The Georgian government sent to UNOMIG a written 'notification' about the flight dated 19 April, but delivered to the Mission on 20 April several hours after the downing of the aircraft).

2. In order to maximize transparency, UNOMIG' Chief Military Observer offered to convene a Joint Fact-Finding Group, a mechanism with the participation of the Georgian and Abkhaz sides, the CIS PKF and UNOMIG created in 2000 to investigate potential violations of the Moscow Agreement as well as crimes with political motivation. The Georgian side declined to participate on the grounds that such a format would not be conducive to investigating successfully this incident, but undertook to cooperate with UNOMIG investigation. The CIS PKF agreed to participate and the Abkhaz side did not answer. In these circumstances, UNOMIG decided to carry out an independent investigation into the incident as it is authorized under its mandate.

3.  This was not the first UNOMIG investigation into the downing of a UAV. One month earlier, on 18 March, the Abkhaz side already claimed that one of their L-39 had destroyed a Georgian UAV off the coast of Ochamchira, in Abkhaz-controlled territory. At the time, the Georgian authorities denied having lost any UAV.  After examining the debris from the UAV, the initial investigation by UNOMIG concluded that a Hermes 450 UAV was most probably involved, the maximum range of which was consistent with Georgian ownership. UNOMIG informed the Georgian Ministry of Defence that it considered that a reconnaissance mission by a military aircraft, whether manned or unmanned, constituted 'military action' and therefore contravened the Moscow Agreement, which stipulates that the parties 'shall scrupulously observe the ceasefire on land, at sea and in the air and shall refrain from all military actions against each other'.  The Mission also called both sides' attention to the fact that the Georgian action and the Abkhaz reaction had generated a threat to those who use the airspace over the Zone of Conflict and its surroundings. The Department of Peacekeeping Operations expressed these concerns in the verbal update presented to the Security Council on 14 April.

4.   In order to carry out its investigation into the 20 April incident, UNOMIG's Fact-Finding Team brought together specialists who included two military radar controllers, an information technology officer who develops software for UAV systems, a UN staff member in charge of UAV procurement, a senior fighter pilot and graduate of fighter weapons school, an L-39 pilot, and an expert in imagery analyses with 20 years of experience in video and satellite analysis. The Fact-Finding Team called upon the sides and the CIS PKF to cooperate with its efforts. Regrettably, the Abkhaz side declined to do so, but it nevertheless provided UNOMIG with access to the debris collected from the incidents of 18 March, 20 April and 12 May 08. (The Abkhaz side claims that it has downed 7 UAVs in the period 18 March - 12 May however UNOMIG can confirm only the debris from the incidents on 18 March, 20 April and 12 May to be from Hermes 450.)

5.   The following summarizes the work of the Fact-Finding Team with regard to the information gathered by UNOMIG patrols from witnesses at the location of the incident, and the analysis and assessment performed on the evidence that was made available to the Team, with an emphasis on the video and radar records provided by the Georgian authorities.