Russia completes pull-out from Georgian buffer zone

October 8th, 2008 - 10:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Moscow/Tbilisi, Oct 8 (DPA) Russian forces quit posts in buffer zones around rebel regions of Georgia Wednesday in their final withdrawal from positions held since Russia’s war with Tbilisi two months ago.The Georgian interior ministry confirmed the complete pull-out from outside South Ossetia, ministry spokesman Shota Utyashvili said Wednesday.

He did not mention whether Russian troops had left posts around Georgia’s other separatist region of Abkhazia.

But Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said the pullout from zones around Abkhazia and South Ossetia would be complete by midnight Wednesday.

Hansjoerg Haber, the head of an unarmed European Union mission monitoring the pull-out, called the developments “a very positive sign” - a statement touted by the EU’s foreign Policy chief Javier Solana.

Georgian police have taken back their functions in the vacated villages and refugees are returning to the border regions, the Georgian ministry said.

“Within a half hour of the Russian occupiers leaving this area, internally displaced persons can return to their homes and Georgian police will assume full responsibility for ensuring their security,” Interior Minister Vano Merabishvili was quoted by local media as saying.

“By evening all these villages in this territory will be controlled by Georgian police,” he said.

Moscow has until Friday to withdraw it forces, under an EU- brokered ceasefire hammered out by French President Nicolas Sarkozy to end the five-day conflict. An EU mission of 300 monitors is to replace the Russian presence in the buffer zones.

But Russia plans to keep 7,600 troops in each of the breakaway regions, which it recognizes as independent republics after blocking Tbilisi’s August offensive to reassert control.

Russia’s actions were overwhelmingly condemned by the West, ramping up international security tensions and raising concerns about the safety of oil and gas transits to Europe through the volatile region.

Speaking Wednesday at a summit with EU leaders in the French city of Evian, Medvedev praised the EU’s level-headed role in seeking a resolution to the conflict.

A peace conference is set for Oct 15 in Geneva, when the broader issue of Georgia’s long term security is to be debated.

Russia’s foreign ministry said Wednesday it would push for an arms embargo on Georgia in the talks.

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