Russia says troops in ‘final stage’ of pullback from Georgia

August 22nd, 2008 - 7:15 pm ICT by IANS  

Moscow/Tbilisi, Aug 22 (DPA) Russia pledged to pull back the bulk of its troops from Georgia by the end of Friday, but planned to hold a buffer zone and “peacekeeping forces” in two breakaway regions, angering Western diplomats.Colonel General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy head of the Russian military’s general staff, said Friday that the Russian forces are “in final stage of pull back”.

The general said 18 additional Russian checkpoints were being built up Friday as part of a Russian-controlled buffer zone along the border of Georgia’s breakaway region of South Ossetian and Abkhazia.

A contingent of 2,142 Russian peacekeeping forces would remain in Abkhazia and 452 troops in South Ossetia, Nogovitsyn said at a briefing in Moscow.

Reporters near the border with South Ossetia said military traffic leaving the occupied zones was slow.

International criticism has mounted with each new day that Moscow delays pulling its troops out of Georgian territory in accordance with a ceasefire that ended the 10-day conflict.

US President George W. Bush called for an end of the Russian “siege” in telephone talks with US ally Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili Thursday.

But Russian military commanders brushed aside Bush’s demands for the immediate withdrawal, saying they were complying with the peace accord.

“The President of the United States is on vacation. Obviously, he is not receiving timely information: we recommend the president’s press secretary top pay more attention to our press conferences,” Nogovitsyn said.

Responding to a question about Saakashvili protest over Russia “taking new strategic positions,” Nogovitsyn shot back, “we are not asking his permission”.

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