Page last updated at 14:17 GMT, Friday, 10 October 2008 15:17 UK

EU verifies Russia's withdrawal

Russian troops dismantle a checkpoint near South Ossetia. Photo: 7 October 2008
Russia has dismantled its checkpoints in the buffer zones

Russian forces have fully withdrawn from buffer zones adjoining Georgia's breakaway regions, the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana says.

He said he was "happy to announce" that EU monitors had confirmed the withdrawal from the zones outside Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Friday was the deadline for the pull-out under a ceasefire plan.

Earlier, however, France's foreign minister noted that Russian forces remained in some disputed pockets.

Asked if Russia had honoured the ceasefire deal, Bernard Kouchner said: "I think so, but partly."

"They had to leave the buffer zone before October 10 and they did it," he said, after touring the area with EU monitors.

But he said he was aware of three disputed pockets of land, and that these would be discussed at an international conference in Geneva next week.

Georgia has complained that Russian forces still occupy Akhalgori and Perevi in South Ossetia, and the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia - areas that were under Georgian control before conflict erupted on 7 August.

However, the BBC's Europe editor Mark Mardell said Mr Kouchner did not criticise the Russians, and seemed generally happy with progress made since the conflict ended.

Mr Kouchner travelled in a convoy of armoured cars and police vehicles through towns near South Ossetia.

In a village where one house had been all but destroyed, he said:

"It's always very sad to see houses destroyed and people coming back and discovering their belongings in desperate state. It was not a good march of the Russian army. Not at all."

However, he pointed out that other houses were still standing, and implied there was hope, adding: "It's sad, but it's not hell."

Concerns remain

Mr Kouchner defended the ceasefire deal that he helped broker, and that brought the short war to an end.

He said: "It was not perfect but it was a document negotiated under fire," and that it had stopped the Russians going all the way to Tbilisi.

Mark Mardell
Convoy Kouchner was quite literally chaos on wheels - a high speed chase through what was the Russian buffer zone
BBC Europe editor Mark Mardell

He also said he was happy that the European Union had stuck together even though there were wide differences of opinion over how to approach Russia.

Mr Kouchner's verdict will carry weight with the 27 European Union foreign ministers who meet next week to make a judgment on a Russian withdrawal, says Mark Mardell, from Georgia.

Georgian Foreign Minister Eka Tkeshelashvili said on Thursday that while her government welcomed the Russian pull-out from the buffer zones, Russian forces remained in great numbers within Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Moscow has recognised both territories' independence, and says it intends to set up permanent military bases there.

"The concerns that we have are that the Russian side clearly says that it will not under its voluntary intent withdraw forces from the rest of the territory of Georgia," Ms Tkeshelashvili said.

Russia says it is defending Russian citizens in the two territories.

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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