Georgia troop withdrawal has begun but checkpoints remain

Georgia Materials 21 August 2008 11:45 (UTC +04:00)

The Kremlin on Thursday announced it had begun its first substantial troop withdrawals from Georgia, but army-operated road and rail checkpoints remained in place throughout the Russian area of occupation, dpa reported.

Combat elements of Russia's 58th Army were evacuating the vicinity of the north Georgian town Gori and would return to South Ossetia over the next two days, a Russian army spokesman told the Interfax news agency.

The first 100-vehicle column had reached the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali by 9 a.m. Thursday morning, the official said.

Georgian media showed images of Russian tanks and personnel carriers moving north from Gori, but Russian road checkpoints remained in place, eyewitnesses said.

In Georgia's West, Russian ground forces reportedly had evacuated the port of Poti by Wednesday evening, according to the Kremlin a preparatory step to reboarding Russian warships on station off shore.

However, Russian tanks and infantry were reportedly still holding the inland towns of Zugdidi and Senaki. As in the Gori sector, Russian soldiers were operating road checkpoints and blocking all Georgian government traffic, and permitting civilian vehicles through only after inspection.

Russian army officials have said the road checkpoint system is necessary for security in Russia-controlled areas of Georgia. A total eighteen checkpoints reportedly would continue to operate in Georgian territory after the withdrawal is complete.

Georgia's government has accused Russia of reneging on a August 11 ceasefire agreement stipulating, among other conditions, a removal of all Russian forces from Georgian territory.