No Russian withdrawal yet from Georgian positionsAugust 17th, 2008 - 4:05 pm ICT by IANS
Tbilisi, Aug 17 (DPA) Russian military forces Sunday were showing few signs of falling back from positions deep in Georgia, as US President George W. Bush called on the Kremlin to honour a ceasefire stipulating they leave. Russian infantry backed by armoured personnel carriers and tanks were digging in on the banks of the Lekhura river, having fallen back some four km from the village Igoeti Saturday.
The army checkpoint next to the Lekhura bridge was the most forward Russian force in Georgia, some 30 km from the Georgian capital here.
Russian troops were not interfering with local residents but halting all traffic moving on the Tblisi-Gori highway.
Prior to evacuating Igoeti, Russian combat engineers blew up a Georgian railroad bridge in the vicinity, villagers said.
Georgian police and army troops were keeping a minimum five km distance from the Russians.
With most Georgian security personnel resting in the shade, there was little evidence of a coherent Georgian effort to prevent another Russian advance.
Combat and support troops of Russia’s 58th Army were using the Georgian city of Gori, a major road hub, as their base of operations.
Russian supply lorries were moving through the city streets and combat troops were conducting patrols in the town, Georgian media reported.
The situation in the city was generally quiet and the Russian Army had begun tours of the city for journalists accompanying Russian troops.
The town had seen some looting, but in general the security situation in Gori was calm, Russian officials said.
Forest fires were burning in old growth forests in Georgia’s Borjoumi region.
Georgian officials accused Russian helicopters of setting the fires. There was no confirmation of the claim.
Russian mobile forces in the west of Georgia Sunday showed no signs of abandoning the city of Senaki, like Gori a key road hub in the region.
Patrols of infantry and personnel carriers were moving deeper into Georgian territory from time to time, but were returning to Senaki.
Russian marines and naval troops Sunday were seen leaving the Georgian port of Poti after having demolished Georgian naval installations and removed tons of Georgian military materials by lorry.
US-supplied patrol boats were among the Georgian naval equipment carted away by the Russians, witnesses said.
Bush called on Moscow to end the crisis in Georgia as Russian President Dimitry Medvedev Saturday signed a six-point European Union-mediated peace plan in the conflict over the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
“Russia needs to honour the agreement and withdraw its forces, and of course end military operations,” Bush said from his ranch in Crawford, Texas.
A key point of the plan is the withdrawal of Russian armed forces to positions held before hostilities began in the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia last week.
Russian forces were ignoring the stipulations.
Russian officers have justified the continued wide-ranging movements of Russian forces as necessary to maintain stability and security in the region.
The Russian Army’s General Staff in Moscow has repeatedly denied reports that Russian troops are still in Gori and Poti, despite witness accounts to the contrary.
Russian officials have conceded their forces are in Georgian military bases destroying material, but have adhered to a flimsy fiction that Russian troops are staying out of Georgian villages and cities.
“Presently we have no units in Gori or Poti,” Deputy Chief of Staff General Anatoly Nogovytsyn said, as reported by the Interfax news agency.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was scheduled to arrive in Tbilisi Sunday for talks with the Georgian leadership on the ceasefire arrangement, and possible EU assistance to Georgia.