Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Russia to keep troops in Georgia

Russia to keep troops in Georgia

Russia says it will keep 7,600 troops in Georgia's breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia after withdrawing from the rest of the country.

On Monday, Russia agreed to withdraw its troops from positions within Georgia, taken up during the recent conflict, by mid-October.

But President Dmitry Medvedev ordered that military bases be maintained in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Russia also says it has established formal diplomatic ties with them.

The move followed a decision - condemned by the US and EU but defined as "irrevocable" by Moscow - to recognise South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said troops were expected to remain in the two regions "for the foreseeable future".

"Russian troops will remain on the territory of South Ossetia and Abkhazia on request of their leaders in parliament," Mr Lavrov said from Moscow.

"They will be there a long time. This is absolutely necessary, so as not to allow a repeat of armed actions," he added.

Mr Lavrov said that both regions should also be able to participate in talks on Georgia scheduled for next month in Geneva with "fully fledged" places.

Russia is expected to sign formal agreements on troop deployment in South Ossetia and Abkhazia over the coming days.

International observers

Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said that some 3,800 men would be positioned in each breakaway region.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had already indicated that Moscow intended to maintain a military presence in the regions, but Mr Serdyukov's statement provides the first specific breakdown of troop numbers.

On Monday, Mr Medvedev pledged to withdraw troops from the rest of Georgia on condition that the EU would deploy at least 200 observers, along with 220 other international monitors to ensure the security of the two breakaway regions.

Under the deal, Russia will pull out within 10 days of the deployment of EU monitors.

Russian troops are present in both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as well as in so-called buffer zones around these regions and near the strategic port city of Poti.

Fighting between Russia and Georgia began on 7 August after the Georgian military tried to retake the breakaway region of South Ossetia by force.

Russian forces launched a counter-attack and the conflict ended with the ejection of Georgian troops from both South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Also on Tuesday, South Ossetia's Prosecutor General Taimuraz Khugayev said that investigations had confirmed that more than 500 people had been killed during Georgia's attack last month, according to Russian news agency, Interfax.

Russia initially suggested more than 1,500 people had died in the conflict. Independent observers say they have been unable to confirm such high figures.

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Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2008/09/09 12:12:27 GMT


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