Reporter’s diary: Gori awakens

Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher finds dozens of survivors in a town believed to be deserted.

A Georgian humanitarian worker (R) hands out food aid in Gori, Georgia. Russia signed a cease fire agreement with Georgia on August 16 but continued their grip on the city  [GALLO/GETTY]

Word spread quickly and a crowd soon gathered around the disused building.

The women queued noisily and chaotically, as the men lifted boxes from the truck and passed them along the human chain that had been quickly created.

They came for bread, for water … for anything that would make life a little more bearable. And in the crowd there were the desperate faces of those who worried they would be left with nothing.

This was the scene in Gori today; the people here have been been waiting for days like this when help arrives from the outside. 

This was my second time in Gori in just a few days. We had been told that the town was almost deserted, but the arrival of aid had lured people out of their hiding holes and into the open.

And they were here in their dozens.

One woman told us this was the second time she had lined up today waiting for supplies.

“There are long queues and we don’t always manage to get the food.  People are falling, pushing each other,” she said.

Waiting patiently in line Sirafima Meladze said she could not go back to her home because it had been destroyed.  She is now staying in Gori with a Russian friend.

“We have no place left to go. If anything more dangerous happens we will have to move,” she said.

Aid, security needed

This town needs two things; aid and security.  The food is beginning to arrive but even with the Russian army ringing the town, the people here still do not feel safe.

We met Tamaz Klimiashvili at his home in Gori. He told us he had hidden from the Russians in his home a short distance from the town centre.

He stayed on the ground floor of his house and made little noise. 

Now that he is confident the Russians pose him no threat he is back at picking fruit and vegetables from his garden to eat. 

But a distance from Stalin Square, a group of people are talking animatedly with rising, excited voices. 

They tell Al Jazeera that armed militia entered Gori the previous night, sending everyone into a panic. 

“They were drunk, and roaming the town before they headed back to the hills. They broke into shops and stole vodka and other drinks,” one woman told us. 

Another asks how they managed to get past the three Russian army checkpoints on every road into the city. The checkpoints have restricted who can enter the city and prevents locals from getting out.

Moving, not withdrawing

But Alexander Lomiai, Georgia’s national security advisor who has been here every day since Russian tanks rolled in, told Al Jazeera the Russians are moving but not withdrawing. 

“We are seeing them on the road but they are taking up positions across a wider area”.

With pressure from the US and Europe, the Russians are going to pull out but they will do it slowly.  They have not yet fulfilled their plan and seem to be in no hurry to leave.

On the road from Gori for up to 20km south, the Russians are there. 

We can see them on the hill digging trenches in the hot summer sun.

Their vehicles are pulled into trees and camouflaged but the guns still poke out, pointing south.

There is no sign this is an army getting ready to leave. 

Moscow insists the pullout begins on Monday.

One Russian general says these troops were the first in and that they will likely be the last out.

Source : Al Jazeera

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