Russian forces to begin buffer-zone pull-out

Russian forces will begin withdrawing from a buffer zone in Georgia tomorrow and be out within 24 hours.

The head of Russian peacekeeping troops based in South Ossetia, General Marat Kulakhmetov, made the announcement today at their base in the regional capital, Tskhinvali.

Kulakhmetov did not specifically mention the troops remaining outside Abkhazia, another separatist region.

Russia must pull out its troops from areas surrounding South Ossetia and Abkhazia by Friday under agreements brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Russia left troops in the areas after they routed Georgian forces during a war in August.

Russian forces have been packing up and dismantling posts outside South Ossetia and Abkhazia in recent days in preparation for the withdrawal.

Kulakhmetov said Russian troops already had withdrawn most of their equipment from six checkpoints outside South Ossetia, adding they still have to remove some fortifications and level trenches.

The ceasefire also calls for both sides to return troops to the positions they held before the fighting broke out – but Russia's plan to keep around 8,000 troops in the regions well exceeds the number deployed there as peacekeepers before the fighting began.

Russia recognised the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia after the fighting.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev's foreign-policy adviser Sergei Prikhodko said that Moscow would insist that representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia take part in an international conference set to open in Geneva next week.


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