Russia starts to withdraw from Georgia - witness

17:33, 19 August 2008
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Four Russian armoured vehicles and several battle tanks and trucks

Russian troops, tanks and armoured vehicles started to withdraw from the Georgian town of Gori on Tuesday, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.

Under a scorching sun, four Russian armoured vehicles and several battle tanks and trucks blew up exhaust fumes and dust as they set off in the direction of South Ossetia.

"I order you to carry out a march along the route Gori-Tskhinvali-Vladikavkaz," a senior Russian officer barked to troops before getting in his armoured vehicle near Gori.

Russian soldiers waved and smiled from the vehicles as the tanks and vehicles rumbled down the road.

Reporters were taken on a trip to the area by Russia`s Foreign Ministry. It was not clear whether other Russian military units stationed in Georgia were pulling out simultaneously.

"Today we can say that the process has started," Igor Konashenkov, an aide to the Russian infantry commander, told Reuters at the scene.

He said the speed of troops` withdrawal to Vladikavkaz depended on the capacity of regional roads, currently clogged with humanitarian aid shipments.

Fighting erupted in South Ossetia after Georgia on Aug. 7-8 tried to recapture the rebel region, sparking an international crisis as Russia mounted the biggest military deployment outside its borders since the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union.

Moscow and Washington have been trading barbs over the conflict. The United States has backed its ally Georgia and accused Russia of bullying Tbilisi after Moscow`s troops occupied several towns in Georgia outside the rebel areas.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said on Sunday that Russian troops would begin to pull out of Georgia on Monday.


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