Forests are still burning in Georgia

Forests are still burning in Georgia

 21 August 2008

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Georgia — Up to 280 hectares (692 acres) of forests have been burnt or are alight in Georgia after its conflict with Russia, the WWF said on August 20, warning that key conservation areas were under threat.

According to IFP, the fires are centered in the Borjomi-Kharagauli area, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) west of the strategic city of Gori, some 60 kilometers from the Georgian capital Tbilisi .

Georgia’s foreign ministry had said on 16th of August, that the Borgomi Gorge area had been targeted by Russian helicopters dropping firebombs in a dozen locations.

Some fires have also been reported inside the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park, about 125 kilometres (80 miles) southwest of Tbilisi .

The source of Borjomi mineral water — one of Georgia’s top exports — is located in the park, IFP reports.

Russian defence ministry spokesman was quoted by state news agency RIA Novosti saying that Russia had “nothing to do with the forest fire in Borjomi”, and that they were ready to help the Georgians douse the flames if asked.

Turkish pilots flying low level to dodge air defence radars water-bombed forest fires burning in Georgia’s Caucasus Mountain region, despite a Russian army threat to shoot down aircraft not clearing flight plans with Moscow first, Georgian officials said on August 21.

Monstersandcritics (M&C) announces, that it was a peculiar and quite possibly extremely dangerous mission for the aircraft, three little Canadian-built water bomber planes belonging to Turkey’s Ministry of Forestry and the Istanbul city government, as the ‘scoopers’ carried water from Turkey’s Kars region through Russian-controlled air space.

‘But we could not have got the forest fires under control without them,’ said Irakli Gvalidze, Georgia’s Minister of Forestry and Environmental Protection in an interview. ‘Without those Turkish pilots helping with the Borjomi fires, we could have had an environmental disaster.’

According to M&C, Russian army officers speaking in Moscow scoffed, pointing out their forces already were demolishing Georgian military and transportation infrastructure at will, so why bother burning trees? The Russian air force helicopters were merely inspecting the fires to make sure Russian troops weren’t threatened, Kremlin officials said.

Georgia’s government the next day, Aug. 21, announced it had arranged with Turkey to fly water bomber aircraft (planes that scoop up water from a lake and then drop it on a fire) but Moscow would not approve flight plans.

Colonel General Anatoliy Nagovitsyn, vice head of Russia’s army general staff said neither the Georgians nor the Turks had even asked about flying into Russia-controlled airspace.

Turkish diplomats confirmed the flights had taken place, and that Turkey had coordinated the firefighting operation with Georgia, not Russia.

‘Turkey has assisted other countries in fire-fighting before, this is normal for us,’ said Ufuk Bey, a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman. He said he was not aware of how precisely the Turkish aircraft avoided Russian anti-aircraft guns and missiles.

‘There was no interference from the Russians,’ Bey said.

‘Those Turkish pilots, they are Georgian heroes,’ Gvalidze said. ‘I don’t know their names, but they are brave men, and they have done a great thing for my country.’

The Borjomi fires by the weekend had converged, engulfing an estimated 250 square hectares of forest, M&C reports.

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