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Pullout incomplete, U.S. says

GORI, Georgia — Russian troops pulled out of their main military camp in Gori on Friday in what Moscow said was compliance with a cease-fire agreement, but they set up checkpoints north of the city and the United States and France protested that the withdrawal was not complete.

"Establishing checkpoints, buffer zones, are definitely not part of the agreement," said State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

Russian units said they had orders only to fall back as far as the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia. The Russians, however, did not immediately withdraw from undisputed Georgian territory, instead setting up a checkpoint about 2 miles north of Gori and several others on the road to Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. A senior Russian official said Russian military checkpoints ringing South Ossetia would be permanent.

Still, it was a momentous turn in the worst confrontation between the Kremlin and the West since the Soviet collapse, and Georgians exulted in a new sense of freedom as the Russian troops departed. Outside Igoeti, the closest Russians got to the capital of Tbilisi, Georgian police in a convoy pumped their fists and waved flags behind Russian tanks pulling out.

The withdrawal made good on assurances from Moscow that the troops would be out of Gori by 8 p.m. local time. What appeared to be the last six vehicles drove off after soldiers fired on a disabled armored personnel carrier.

"We are in control of the streets of the city of Gori," Georgian Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili said outside City Hall.

The withdrawal came two weeks to the day after thousands of Russian soldiers roared into the former Soviet republic following an assault by Georgian forces on the capital of the separatist territory of South Ossetia. The conflict left hundreds dead, several cities destroyed and nearly 160,000 people homeless.

While Russian columns left Georgia's western Senaki military base, Gori and Igoeti, troops and armored personnel carriers stayed put in at least three positions near Senaki and the Black Sea port city of Poti, raising questions about Russia's intentions. Poti is far from any security zone envisioned by Western governments. Russian also said it was creating so-called security zones extending into Georgian territory to prevent future attacks.

The diplomatic struggle over South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which broke from Georgia's control in wars after the 1991 Soviet breakup, seems certain to continue. Russia is to discuss recognizing the regions' independence on Monday.

A tense two weeks

Aug. 7: Major fighting begins when Georgia launches an artillery and rocket barrage targeting Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia. Russian forces arrive in less than 24 hours.

Aug. 13: EU-brokered cease-fire is announced. Both sides are to pull back to positions held before the fighting erupted.

Sunday: Russia says it will withdraw forces it sent into Georgia to South Ossetia and what it calls a surrounding "security zone" set in 1999. The zone extends 4.3 miles in both directions from the administrative border between South Ossetia and Georgia.

Friday: Russian troops erect 18 peacekeeping posts in the so-called security zone. Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of Russia's general staff, says the peacekeepers will establish another 18 peacekeeping posts around Abkhazia; 2,142 Russian peacekeepers are to be deployed on Abkhazia's de facto border, while 452 are to staff the South Ossetia de facto border.

Pullout incomplete, U.S. says 08/22/08 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 2, 2010 1:42pm]
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