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Russian forces pull back from Igoeti's center

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080816/ap_on_re_eu/georgia_russia Russian forces pull back from Igoeti s center By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press Writer 4
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 16, 2008
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080816/ap_on_re_eu/georgia_russia

      Russian forces pull back from Igoeti's center

      By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA, Associated Press Writer 4 minutes ago

      IGOETI, Georgia - Russian forces pulled back Saturday from positions in a town not far from Georgia's capital after the Russian president signed a cease-fire deal, but his foreign minister said the withdrawal would be contingent on further security measures.

      Tanks and troops were still dug in on a hillside on the edge of Igoeti, some 30 miles from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, and there was no immediate sign of a pullout from the strategic city of Gori, about 20 miles up the road.

      The military movement came around the same time that officials said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had signed the deal, setting the stage for a Russian troop withdrawal after more than a week of warfare in the former Soviet republic at the heart of increasing tension between Russia and the West.

      The agreement, signed a a day earlier by Georgian President Mikhail Saakshvili after lengthy talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, calls for both Russian and Georgian forces to pull back to positions they held before fighting erupted Aug. 8.

      Georgia launched a massive barrage to try to take control of the Russian-backed separatist region of South Ossetia. The Russian army quickly overwhelmed the forces of its small U.S.-backed neighbor and Moscow's troops drove deep into Georgia.

      The Russian seizure of territory, including Gori and its positions in Igoeti, raised fears that Russia was aiming for a permanent occupation of the country that once was part of its empire.

      In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Bush said the world "has watched with alarm as Russia invaded a sovereign neighboring state and threatened a democratic government elected by its people."

      "To begin to repair the damage to its relations with the United States, Europe, and other nations, and to begin restoring its place in the world, Russia must act to end this crisis," Bush said.

      Keeping up the diplomatic pressure, Rice planned to go to Brussels next week for meetings with the foreign ministers of NATO allies and European Union officials.

      The cease-fire calls for Russian troops to pull back to positions they held in South Ossetia before the fighting while allowing limited Russian patrols in Georgia proper.

      The Russian leader signed the order in the resort city of Sochi, where the president has a summer residence, Medvedev spokesman Alexei Pavlov said Saturday without providing further details. Saakashvili signed the truce in Tbilisi, the Georgian capital.

      But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov later said in televised remarks that the Russian pullback would take place "as further security measures are taken." Asked how much time it would take, he responded, "As much as is needed."

      He was not specific about the security measures, but accused Georgia of undermining security. "This depends not only upon us," Lavrov said.

      "We are constantly encountering problems from the Georgian side, and everything will depend on how effectively and quickly these problems are resolved," he said.

      While Russian forces abandoned the center of Igoeti, they maintained positions on a hillside with a view of the area. Such deployments could be intended as defensive positions for the Russians to guard their comrades as they withdraw.

      In Gori, a crossroads city where Georgia says the presence of Russian forces has cut the country in half, two columns of military vehicles could be seen and there was no immediate sign of a pullout. Gori is on the same road as Igoeti, further from Tbilisi and closer to South Ossetia.

      The crisis has chilled relations between the United States and Russia. The fighting comes as the U.S. is sealing the deal on a missile shield in Europe — an issue already unraveling ties between the two former Cold War foes.

      Poland and the U.S. signed a deal Thursday for Poland to accept a missile interceptor base as part of a system the U.S. says is aimed at blocking attacks by adversaries such as Iran. Moscow feels it is aimed at Russia's missile force.

      ___

      Associated Press writers Mansur Mirovalev in Gori and Tskhinvali, Jim Heintz in Moscow, and Deb Riechmann in Crawford, Texas contributed to this report.
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