Page last updated at 17:45 GMT, Wednesday, 8 October 2008 18:45 UK

Russian troops quit Georgia areas


Russian troops dismantle a checkpoint

Russian troops have left their self-imposed buffer zones around Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia ahead of a Friday deadline.

Both Georgia and Russia confirmed the move which leaves Russian troops only inside the two regions, which recently declared independence from Georgia.

Moscow plans to keep nearly 8,000 soldiers stationed there.

It fought a brief war to repel Georgian troops trying to regain control of

South Ossetia by force in August.

Russia's foreign minister said an EU mission monitoring the pull-out would be excluded from both territories.

Russia recognised the regions as independent states - a move which drew strong condemnation from Georgia and Western leaders.


Georgia's interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said: "We can confirm that from the so-called buffer zones the withdrawal is complete."

The head of Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia, Maj-Gen Marat Kulakhmetov, later confirmed the withdrawal.

What the EU signed up to in Moscow clearly says that their observers would be deployed outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia
Sergei Lavrov
Russian foreign minister

"During the day we withdrew all six peacekeeping observation posts along with the personnel, arms, hardware and materiel from the southern border of the security zone," he said.

"By so doing we performed our obligations for the withdrawal of the posts that was supposed to be completed by 10 October."

Speaking earlier at an international security conference in France, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia wanted some 200 EU observers in the area to "act as guarantors" to prevent any further hostilities.

On the sidelines of the gathering, French President Nicolas Sarkozy said his Russian counterpart had "kept his word" over Georgia.

Mr Sarkozy, who brokered the peace deal in early August, warned that both Russia and Georgia "must now refrain from any provocation on the ground".

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the BBC that Russia "trusted" that the EU monitors would ensure security in the buffer zones.

However, Mr Lavrov said that EU monitors - deployed last week - would not be allowed into the two breakaway regions where Russia plans to maintain a 7,600-strong force.

Pullout 'on track'

The BBC's James Rodgers, who has been travelling around Georgia, says journalists were brought from both the South Ossetian and Georgian sides to witness the Russian withdrawal.

He described it as a media event as well as a military operation.

In the Georgian village of Karaleti, he says, the withdrawal went according to plan.

A bulldozer levelled the land where a Russian position had stood and the soil was then carefully swept with metal detectors to lessen the risk of some deadly remnant of war, he says.

Our correspondent says he was then taken to watch the withdrawing columns pass - tanks, armoured personnel carriers and lorries carrying troops.

Russia's foreign minister on the withdrawal

The BBC's Mark Mardell, who is in Variani in Georgia, said that as soon as the Russians were gone the Georgians came in - one man and his boy put a Georgian flag up on the post where they had been.

One Georgian man told Reuters news agency: "We will return to our homes as there will be nothing to be scared of... our army and police will be there. Everything will be fine."

The fighting in the region began on 7 August when Georgia tried to retake South Ossetia by force after a series of lower-level clashes with Russian-backed rebels.

Russia launched a counter-attack and the Georgian troops were ejected from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia days later.


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