Sunday, October 5, 2008

Russia removes Georgia checkpoint

Russia removes Georgia checkpoint

About 12 EU patrols began operating on Wednesday
Russian troops have removed a key checkpoint from Georgian territory near the breakaway province of South Ossetia, European Union observers say.

The checkpoint, near the town of Gori, a gateway to the separatist region, is the first taken down by the Russians under a withdrawal pledge.

Russia has agreed to pull out troops from two buffer zones within Georgia by 10 October, under EU observation.

Russia and Georgia fought a 10-day conflict over South Ossetia in August.

See a map of the region
Russia has kept troops in South Ossetia - and Georgia's other breakaway region, Abkhazia - since ousting Georgian forces during the conflict.

Moscow has boosted security in South Ossetia in recent days following an explosion in the region which killed eight Russian soldiers and three civilians.

The chief of staff of what Russia calls its peacekeeping operation in the region was among those killed, Moscow said, accusing Georgian secret services of arranging the blast. Georgia denied the accusation. EU OBSERVERS IN GEORGIA
More than 200 unarmed observers from 22 EU nations
HQ in Tbilisi, with additional four field offices
Oversee Russia's pullout from "buffer zones" by 10 Oct
Deployed under a French-brokered peace deal
Mission's initial duration is 12 months

Some 200 EU observers from 22 nations are now on the ground overseeing the military's compliance, or otherwise, with pledges made by leaders at the Kremlin.

They reported the first signs of progress on Sunday morning at a checkpoint previously manned by 20-30 Russian soldiers.

"Our observers went to the checkpoint in Ali, north-west of Gori, and saw that it has been dismantled," and EU spokesman told the AFP news agency.

"This is the first dismantled checkpoint."

A regional police chief told Reuters the checkpoint was in the village of Nabakhtevi.


The Russian pull-back was agreed in the ceasefire deal brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

But Russia plans to keep nearly 8,000 troops in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which it has recognised as independent states.

Western leaders have condemned both the buffer zones and Russia's recognition of the two regions.

The EU wants its observers to have access to the breakaway regions, but Russia has repeatedly refused to guarantee that.

The fighting in the region began on 7 August when Georgia tried to retake South Ossetia by force after a series of lower-level clashes.

Russia launched a counter-attack and the Georgian troops were ejected from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia days later.

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