Russian forces have pulled back from buffer zones around the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the Georgian government says. Moscow intends to keep 7,600 soldiers within the two rebel regions of Georgia.
Russian forces completed a withdrawal from buffer zones around Georgia's rebel regions Wednesday, two months after a war over South Ossetia poisoned relations between Moscow and the West.
Russia abandoned positions around the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgian interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said. "They have withdrawn from all of the buffer zones."
The withdrawal came well ahead of the Friday deadline required by a peace plan brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, current holder of the EU presidency.
At talks in Paris with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Sarkozy said the withdrawal paved the way for talks to resume on an "ambitious" EU-Russia partnership agreement. It had been put on ice last month in protest at Russia's actions in Georgia.
Medvedev had "kept his word" by fulfilling the withdrawal, Sarkozy said.
"The full implementation of the accords ... paves the way for the resumption of negotiations on an ambitious framework agreement, both in terms of the scope and intensity of cooperation," Sarkozy said.
"Both sides must now refrain from any provocation on the ground," he added.
The 27-nation EU last month announced a freeze in negotiations on a new partnership with Russia, until Moscow pulled its troops back to the positions they had held before the Georgia conflict.
In Georgia, an AFP correspondent saw a column of Russian military trucks, tanks and an armoured personnel carrier leave the strategic Karaleti checkpoint and head towards the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, followed by EU monitors.
Georgian police were later seen moving in to restore Tbilisi's control in the buffer zone.
EU observers monitoring pullout
At least 200 EU observers deployed in the buffer zones last week as part of the ceasefire deal.
The head of the European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM), Hansjorg Haber, said in a statement that "Russia seems to have completed most of the withdrawal. However, EUMM observers are still on the ground to verify."
"We will also monitor the movement of Georgian law enforcement agencies which will ensure security on the ground and allow people to resume normal everyday life," he said.
The Russian forces pushed into Georgia to repel a Georgian military effort to regain control of South Ossetia on August 7-8.
Moscow said it was protecting Russian citizens there from Georgian aggression, but Tbilisi accused it of having provoked the conflict in order to cement control over the region and destabilise the pro-Western Georgian government.
Georgian officials said they would now be pushing for Russian forces to withdraw from two areas within the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia that were under Georgian control before the conflict.
Georgia contends that Russia must withdraw from the Akhalgori region in South Ossetia and the Kodori Gorge in Abkhazia under the terms of the ceasefire, which called for forces on both sides to return to positions held prior to the conflict.
Russian peacekeeping forces were deployed in South Ossetia and Abkhazia before the conflict, but not in the two disputed regions.
"There are very alarming signs that the Russians are trying to re-interpret the... agreements and don't plan to withdraw from the Akhalgori district," Georgian Reintegration Minister Temur Yakobashvili told AFP.
"The Georgian government considers that as long as the Russians are in Akhalgori they are not observing their commitments under the Sarkozy plan," he said.
Russia recognised South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states following the conflict and plans to keep 7,600 troops in the two rebel regions.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday that Moscow would demand a ban on weapons sales to Georgia in talks due to take place in Geneva next week.
"The ideal solution to the problem of ensuring security would be an embargo on arms deliveries to the current Georgian regime, and as an immediate step... there must be an international ban on sales of offensive weaponry to Georgia," Lavrov said in televised remarks.
"In accordance with the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan, it is precisely this issue which is key to the international discussions" scheduled for October 15 in Geneva, Lavrov added.
Date created : 2008-10-08