Russian troops withdraw from Gori

Moscow says hundreds of troops will remain inside buffer zone despite withdrawal.

    Russian forces moved into South Ossetia on August 7 [AFP]

    "The troops are leaving. This column going past is going to the right towards Tskhinvali. By 1300GMT all the Russian troops in the area will have left," Andrei Bobrun, the Russian lieutenant-colonel, said at the scene.

    Buffer zone

    Kakha Lomaia said he would be meeting a Russian commander later in the day to discuss Russian plans to allow some troops to remain in Georgia.

    "We will listen to him, but of course it's not Russia that must decide these things unilaterally. We have a framework in the six-point plan. And the future developments are subject to further diplomatic efforts," he said.

    Russian forces said they had started withdrawing from Georgia on Friday, but insisted they would keep hundreds of troops inside a buffer zone in the former Soviet republic.

    Russia will retain control over a road linking Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, to the sea even after completing a troop pullout, a map shown to journalists by a Russian general indicated.

    The map, displayed at a news conference by Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of general staff, shows Russia's self-imposed "zone of responsibility" to include stretches of Georgia's main east-west road.

    These include most of the route from Georgia's main commercial port of Poti to the town of Senaki, where Nogovitsyn said troops would occupy the military aerodrome.

    One hour prior to the Russian deadline of pulling out, Jonah Hull, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Tblisi, confirmed that the vast majority of Russian forces had pulled out from Gori.

    "We saw a massive convoy of withdrawing Russian troops, armour, even soup kitchens and ambulances. They did look as if they were pulling out and pulling our proper.

    "Georgian police are now ready to go into Gori," Hull said.

    Russian troops entered Georgia in response to a Georgian offensive on August 7 to reassert control over South Ossetia, which broke away from Tbilisi in the early 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

    UN split

    The United Nations Security Council remained at odds on Friday over a draft resolution backing a European Union-sponsored ceasefire plan signed by both Russia and Georgia.

    The US, France and Britain have been insisting on an immediate withdrawal by Russian forces as well as a commitment from Moscow to respect Georgia's territorial integrity.

    However, Russia has drafted a second alternative resolution which restates and endorses the six-point peace plan.

    Churkin said he would seek a deal restating the six-point peace plan [AFP]

    "Our draft resolution is a reconfirmation of the six-point agreement, and there's no territorial integrity in the six principles," Vitaly Churkin, Russia's ambassador to the UN, said after a council meeting on Thursday.

    "We believe the six principles are clear and already implemented."

    Alejandro Wolff, US deputy ambassador to the UN, said that Washington would not be able to support the Moscow draft and questioned whether Russia was trying to "strangle" the Georgian government. 

    "We have a presence of so-called Russian peacekeeping forces at key Georgian choke points that will control economic life, it will control humanitarian activities... That's why clarifications are so important."

    The ceasefire pact demands that both Russian and Georgian troops move back to positions they held before fighting broke out August 7, but Russian forces also can be in a security zone that extends 7km into Georgia from South Ossetia.

    They are also allowed a presence on Georgian territory in a security zone along the border with Abkhazia, another separatist Georgian region, under a 1994 UN-approved agreement that ended a war there.

    Co-operation ended

    In another diplomatic development on Thursday, Russia told the Nato military alliance that it was suspending all co-operation, according to a spokeswoman for the alliance and Moscow's envoy to Nato.

    Moscow has been angered by Nato accepting that Georgia could join the alliance one day, and on Tuesday it was further riled when foreign ministers said future ties would depend on the Russian withdrawal.

    However, the US played down the significance of the announcement.

    "For all practical purposes, military-to-military co-operation had really already been ended with the Russians," Gordon Johndroe, US National Security Council spokesman, said.

    "I can't imagine a circumstance right now that we would engage in military co-operation with the Russians until the situation in Georgia is resolved."

    Nato and Russia began several co-operation projects under an agreement in 2002, including sharing expertise to combat heroin trafficking out of Afghanistan, developing battlefield anti-missile technology, joint exercises and help with rescue at sea.

    Sergei Konoplyov, director of the US-Russia security programme at Harvard University, told Al Jazeera that all co-operation with Nato was symbolic.

    "I think what is happening right now is that Russia has shown its force in Georgia, and it saw the weak reaction of the West," he said.

    "The Nato meeting came after 11 days of military actions in Georgia and I think many European countries, members of Nato, didn't want to have this meeting, they wanted Russia to pull out before they sat down and made any hard comments on Russia."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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