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Page last updated at 15:27 GMT, Wednesday, 20 August 2008 16:27 UK

Russia scales down Georgia toll

A man in a refugee camp in Tbilisi, where many of the displaced are South Ossetian (20 August)
Russian prosecutors reported finding many shallow graves in South Ossetia

Russia has issued new, reduced casualty figures for the Georgian conflict, with 133 civilians now listed as dead in the disputed region of South Ossetia.

The figure is far lower than the 1,600 people Russia initially said had died.

Prosecutors say they have opened a case against Georgia for genocide, while Tbilisi has already filed charges of ethnic cleansing against Moscow.

The move comes as the first international aid group arrived in the disputed region since the fighting.

The seven-member team from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) includes a doctor, a specialist on civil protection, and a water and sanitation engineer.

The conflict broke out on 7 August when Georgia launched an assault to wrest back control of the Moscow-backed separatist region of South Ossetia, triggering a counter-offensive by Russian troops who advanced beyond South Ossetia into Georgia's heartland.

A basic rule of the Geneva Convention is that whenever there is a shadow of a doubt that a civilian target might be hit, you don't fire
Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch

Georgia says its action was in response to continuous provocation.

Both sides have accused the other of violating an EU-brokered peace plan agreed at the weekend, and correspondents say there has been little sign of any large-scale withdrawal by Moscow.

Severe destruction

Following an investigation in South Ossetia and amongst refugees who fled to Russia, Moscow says it now has a list of the names of 133 civilians who died in South Ossetia.

Teams working in the region gathered information from relatives and local officials; their list includes those whose bodies investigators found themselves and information from reburial ceremonies they attended, Moscow says.

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Clive Myrie talks to people in Russian-controlled territory in Georgia

The prosecutors reported finding many hastily dug graves in gardens - and said it would not be clear how many more dead were buried there until thousands of refugees return home.

The death toll from the war and its aftermath has yet to be independently determined.

On Wednesday, South Ossetian officials said 1,492 civilians had been killed.

The US-based group Human Rights Watch told the BBC its own investigation suggests that dozens of people had died there, rather than thousands, although it did document indiscriminate shelling and severe destruction in residential areas of the capital, Tskhinvali.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Moscow says 64 of its servicemen have been killed and more than 300 wounded in the conflict in Georgia, fewer dead than it has said previously but more wounded.

Georgia says it lost 160 soldiers, with another 300 missing.

Last week Georgia said it had filed a case against Russia on charges of ethnic cleansing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which rules on disputes between nations.

Meanwhile the International Criminal Court said it was conducting an analysis of the conflict over potential war crimes - but that it was stopping short of an investigation.

Chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo said in a statement that his office had been "closely monitoring all information on the situation" including reports on attacks on civilians.

Slow withdrawal

Meanwhile at the United Nations, Russia's ambassador said a Security Council resolution went against the terms of the ceasefire brokered by France's President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The draft text called on Russia to pull back its forces to the positions held before the current conflict.

But Russia said the truce allows its troops to stay in a buffer zone on the Georgia side of South Ossetia's border.

Vitaly Churkin objected to language in the draft reaffirming Georgia's territorial integrity, saying South Ossetia and Abkhazia did not want to be part of Georgia.

Russia says President Dmitry Medvedev has said that by Friday, Russian troops would either be sent home, be pulled back to South Ossetia or to a buffer zone along the border.

An official in the port of Poti, which was seized by Russian troops last week, said the Russians had left but not before blowing up a naval vessel and taking military equipment.

Russia said it had also begun a pull-back from Gori, the largest Georgian town close to the South Ossetia border, but BBC correspondents there say there are still several artillery positions and checkpoints in Gori.

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