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US, EU urge calm in missile row

A missile that landed in Georgia was ditched, not fired, by a Russian jet as it fled Georgian airspace, a Georgian official said yesterday as the United States and Europe urged the two powers to stay calm.

The missile weighing about a ton landed - but did not explode - in a farmer's field about 65 km west of Tbilisi on Monday, sparking a slanging match between Georgia and Russia and re-igniting old tensions. Georgia initially said the missile had been fired by Russian jets. But a Georgian official said yesterday that the Russian pilot dumped the missile after coming under fire from separatist forces in South Ossetia, a Moscow-backed breakaway region of Georgia, in an apparent mix up.

As Russia continued to deny any involvement in the incident, the United States and the European Union both appealed for the two sides to cool rhetoric and show restraint. In Washington, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the US had spoken to both sides and was analyzing who might be responsible for the incident. The European Union also called for restraint. Russia has denied its military had anything to do with the missile and instead suggested Georgia may have dropped the bomb itself to provoke a spat with Russia.

In the new version of events, the Georgian official, who did not wish to be named, said the missile landed in Georgia as the result of a mix-up involving a Russian jet trespassing in Georgian airspace. An investigation suggested the pilot did not fire but jettisoned the missile and fled after friendly forces in South Ossetia - which backs Russia - mistakenly fired an anti-aircraft missile at his jet. (