Officials: Georgian Helicopter Shot Down in Separatist Province

South Ossetian officials said their forces shot down a Georgian government helicopter that invaded the breakaway province's airspace Sunday — but Georgian military officials denied the claim.

South Ossetian government spokeswoman Irina Gagloyeva said the Georgian Interior Ministry helicopter was downed after its crew failed to respond to requests that they land or change their route. She said the fate of the crew was not known.

Georgian Interior Ministry representative Shota Khizanishvili confirmed that a ministry helicopter had been shot down, but two Georgian military officials later contradicted his statement.

A Georgian Defense Ministry official who declined to give his name said a helicopter came under fire over North Ossetia — but returned safely to its base.

Paata Bedianashvili, commander of the Georgian contingent of a joint peacekeeping force in South Ossetia, also said a Mi-8 helicopter was fired upon but returned to base.

The Interfax news agency, citing an unidentified South Ossetian military official, reported that a Georgian Mi-8 went down in a wooded area, but it was unclear how many people were aboard.

The incident was certain to deepened tensions between the Georgian government and the separatist leadership of South Ossetia, which has close ties to Russia and has run its own affairs since breaking away in a war in the early 1990s war.