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Page last updated at 14:56 GMT, Thursday, 14 August 2008 15:56 UK

Eyewitness: Gori's combustible mix

By Gabriel Gatehouse
BBC News, Gori-Tbilisi highway, Georgia

Two days after the announcement of a ceasefire, the sounds of explosions and gunfire were again heard around the town of Gori.

Russian forces controlled the town, and Russian tanks started moving towards the outskirts as the fighting started.

Russian soldier in Gori, 14 August 2008
Russia says it wants to restore law and order in Gori

Earlier, Russian attack helicopters had swooped low over the road to the south of the town, deep inside Georgian territory.

It is not clear what the cause of the explosions was. Some eyewitnesses suggested that Russian forces were intervening to stop clashes between Georgian and South Ossetian armed men.

The Russians have said they are carrying out operations to disarm and clear up Georgian ammunition dumps left behind when the Georgian army retreated from the area on Monday.

In the town itself, evidence of the clashes and bombardment of the past week were visible, with bullet holes in windows and broken glass littering the central square.

Gen Vyacheslav Borisov, the man in charge of the Russian forces in the area, told the BBC he wanted the people of Gori to return to the town, including the local law enforcement officers.

Armed Georgian policemen were seen entering the town through Russian checkpoints. The men on both sides looked wary passing each other, carrying their rifles.

Looting

Many civilians have left Gori over the past week. First the town came under Russian bombardment; then after the place was deserted by the Georgian army and police on Monday, the looting started.

Shops were raided and there were reports of people being shot in the streets.

In the central square on Thursday, Gen Barisov told a crowd of local residents it was now safe to return.

I defended my country with pride, but they didn't need to take up arms; there was no need for a war between brothers, between Christians. No-one wants this, no-one
Gori resident

"I have given the order to all the checkpoints, police and military, to let all vehicles through," he said.

"Let people return to the town, let people come with fuel and provisions, those people who own shops start trading; let them bring food from Tbilisi, so that the people have something to eat."

But while gunfire and explosions continue to be heard daily around Gori, it seems unlikely people will heed his call.

Those who remain in the town say they just want the fighting to stop.

"I have nowhere else to go," one woman said, holding a small child by the hand. "I defended my country with pride, but they didn't need to take up arms; there was no need for a war between brothers, between Christians. No-one wants this, no-one."

The Russian forces say the fighting has now stopped and that looters are being dealt with. They say they want to leave the town as soon as law and order is restored.

But for the moment, there are Russians, Georgians and South Ossetians all in the area and all armed. And judging by today's events, that is a combustible mix.




FROM OTHER NEWS SITES
Globe and Mail Georgia accuses Russia of ethnic cleansing' - 2 hrs ago
Chicago TribuneU.S.-Russia ties take a sharp turn - 7 hrs ago
Moscow Times Medvedev Backs Independence Bids - 14 hrs ago
Chicago Sun-Times Russian troops scour Georgia - 14 hrs ago
CNN Shaky Cease-fire between Russia and Georgia; British Television Reporter Roughed Him Up During a Pro-Tibet Rally; Trend in Foreclosures Continues Increasing; Comedian Margaret Cho Returns to TV - 18 hrs ago
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