Russia completes troops pullout from Georgia

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Moscow, Aug 23 (UNI) Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov declared here that Russia had completed the withdrawal of troops from Georgia as stipulated in a peace deal brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy last week.

''The Russian side has fulfilled the agreements set out in the Medvedev-Sarkozy plan drawn up in Moscow,'' Mr Serdyukov told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev after completion of troops withdrawal last night.

''The units' withdrawal took place without upsets, and was concluded according to plan at 1950 hrs (Moscow time), yesterday,'' he said.

The six-point plan to end hostilities requires Russia's troops to pull back to their positions before August 8, but allows its peacekeepers to take ''additional security measures'' in a buffer zone near breakaway South Ossetia, inside Georgia proper.

The troops have moved back into South Ossetia, and some are already at their bases, Mr Serdyukov said.

The announcement was immediately rejected by Georgia, as well as the US and French leaders.

The US and France have accused Russia of failing to comply with the terms of its ceasefire with Georgia by creating buffer zones and checkpoints.

White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe told mediapersons that President George W Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy had discussed the issue over the phone, and agreed, ''Russia is not in compliance and needs to come into compliance now.'' Mr Medvedev has said Georgia's two breakaway regions -- South Ossetia and Abkhazia -- should be allowed to make their own decisions on their future status.

Russia announced the full withdrawal of combat forces from Georgia yesterday but insisted hundreds of other troops could stay under the ceasefire.

The Russian military say they intend to maintain a peacekeeping presence in Georgia, controlling buffer zones around both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

The zones include sections of the main highway from the capital Tbilisi to the Black Sea as well as Georgia's main airbase at Senaki, some 40 km from the boundary with Abkhazia, which sits astride vital road and rail links to the Black Sea port of Poti. The UN Security Council split this week over a resolution, with rival drafts submitted by Moscow, and the US and its allies.

Western diplomats fear that Moscow is determined to define the parameters of the interim security arrangements on its own terms.

Moscow intends to maintain a peacekeeping presence of nearly 2,600 troops in the buffer zones for the foreseeable future, backed by armoured cars and helicopters.

Of these, 2,142 would be deployed along Abkhazia's de facto border and 452 on the de facto border of South Ossetia, the Russian military said.

UNI XC SKB UCS1556

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