Russians are still coming, going

TBILISI, Georgia &

Georgia's deputy defense minister says Russian troops are apparently pulling out of two towns.

Bato Kuteliya said today the troops had left the western town of Zugdidi &

near the breakaway province of Abkhazia &

and are expected to leave the city of Gori shortly. But the Russians haven't left yet, according to reports in the area.

Gori is near South Ossetia, Georgia's other separatist province.

The cease-fire agreed to by the Georgian and Russian presidents calls for both sides to retreat to their original positions.

Russian troops and paramilitaries rolled into the strategic Georgian city of Gori today, apparently violating a truce designed to end the six-day conflict that has uprooted tens of thousands and scarred the Georgian landscape.

Georgian officials said Gori, a central hub on Georgia's main east-west highway, was being looted and bombed by the Russians.

Moscow denied the claim, but it appeared to be on a technicality: a BBC reporter in Gori reported that Russians tanks were in the streets as their South Ossetian separatist allies seized Georgian cars, looted Georgian homes and then set some homes ablaze.

"Russia has treacherously broken its word," Georgia's Security Council chief Alexander Lomaia said today in Tbilisi, the capital.

To the west, Russian-backed Abkhazian separatists pushed Georgian troops out of Abkhazia and even moved into Georgian territory itself, defiantly planting a flag over the Inguri River and laughing that retreating Georgians had received "American training in running away."

The twin developments came less than 12 hours after Georgia's president said he accepted a cease-fire plan brokered by France. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said Tuesday that Russia was halting military action because Georgia had paid enough for its attack last Thursday on South Ossetia.

In Washington, President Bush announced that a massive U.S. humanitarian effort was already in progress, and would involve U.S. aircraft as well as naval forces. A U.S. C-17 military cargo plane loaded with supplies is already on the way, and Bush said that Russia must ensure that "all lines of communication and transport, including seaports, roads and airports," remain open to let deliveries and civilians through.

"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 keep its word and act to end this crisis," Bush said.

The EU peace plan calls for both sides to retreat to the positions they held prior to the outbreak of fighting late Thursday. That phrasing apparently would allow Georgian forces to return to the positions they held in South Ossetia and Abkhazia and clearly obliges Russia to leave all parts of Georgia except South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili criticized Western nations for failing to help Georgia, a U.S. ally that has been seeking NATO membership.

"I feel that they are partly to blame," he said today. "Not only those who commit atrocities are responsible ... but so are those who fail to react. In a way, Russians are fighting a proxy war with the West through us."

Russian at first denied that tanks were even in Gori but video footage proved otherwise.

About 50 Russian tanks entered Gori in the morning, according to a top Georgian official, Alexander Lomaia. The city of 50,000 lies 15 miles south of South Ossetia, where much of the fighting has taken place.

Russian deputy chief of General Staff Col.-Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn admitted that Russians went into Gori, but not in tanks. He said Russians were looking for Georgian officials to talk to about implementing the EU truce but could not find any.

A Russian government official who wasn't authorized to give his name said Russian troops checked a Georgian military base near Gori and found lots of abandoned weapons and ammunition, then moved the ordnance to a safe place as part of efforts to demilitarize the area.

An AP reporter saw dozens of trucks and armored vehicles leaving Gori, roaring southeast. Soldiers waved at journalists and one soldier jokingly shouted to a photographer: "Come with us, beauty, we're going to Tbilisi!"

But the convoy turned north and left the highway about an hour's drive from Tbilisi, and set up camp a mile off the road.

Some Russian units were camouflaged with foliage. The convoy was mainly support vehicles, including ambulances, although there were a few heavy cannons. There were about 100 combat troops and another 100 medics, drivers and other support personnel.

About six miles away from the camp, about 80 well-equipped Georgian soldiers were forming what appeared to be a new frontline, armed with pistols, shoulder-launched anti-tank rockets and Kalashnikovs.

Sporadic clashes continued in South Ossetia where Russians responded to Georgian snipers. "We must respond to provocations," Nogovitsyn said.

Georgia borders the Black Sea between Turkey and Russia and was ruled by Moscow for most of the two centuries preceding the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union. Russia has handed out passports to most in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and stationed peacekeepers in both regions since the early 1990s. Georgia wants the Russian peacekeepers out, but Medvedev has insisted they stay.

In the west, Georgian troops acknowledged today they had completely pulled out of a small section of Abkhazia they had controlled.

"This is Abkhazian land," one separatist told an AP reporter over the Inguri River, saying they were laying claim to historical Abkhazian territory.

The fighters had moved across a thin slice of land dotted with Georgian villages.

"The border has been along this river for 1,000 years," separatist official Ruslan Kishmaria told the AP today. He said Georgia would have to accept the new border.

Georgia insisted its troops had been driven out of Abkhazia by Russian forces. At first, Russia said that separatists had done the job, not Russian forces. Then Nogovitsyn admitted today that Russian peacekeepers had disarmed Georgian troops in Kodori &

the same peacekeepers that Georgia wants withdrawn.

The effect was clear. Abkhazia was out of Georgian hands and it would take more than an EU peace plan to get it back in.

Abkhazia lies close to the heart of many Russians. Its Black Sea coast was a favorite vacation spot in Soviet times and the province is just down the coast from Sochi, the Russian resort that will host the 2014 Olympics.

For several days, Russian troops held the western town of Zugdidi near Abkhazia, controlling the region's main highway. An AP reporter saw a convoy of 13 Russian tanks and armored personnel carriers in Zugdidi's outskirts today. Later in the day, Georgian officials said the Russians pulled out of Zugdidi.

At a huge rally Tuesday night, Saakashvili said Russia's aim all along was not to gain control of the two disputed provinces but to "destroy" the smaller nation.

"They just don't want freedom, and that's why they want to stamp on Georgia and destroy it," he declared to thousands at a jam-packed square in Tbilisi.

Leaders of five former Soviet bloc states &

Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine &

also appeared at the rally and spoke out against Russian domination.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko issued a decree today saying that Russian navy ships deployed to the Georgian coast will need authorization to return to the navy base Russia leases from Ukraine.

In Brussels, Belgium, France sought support from its EU partners to deploy European peacekeeping monitors to the area. EU foreign ministers agreed today to expand the role of the EU in Georgia, but made no decision on dispatching monitors.

The World Food Program sent 34 tons of high-energy biscuits today help the tens of thousands uprooted by the fighting.

Georgian refugees have streamed into Tbilisi and the western Black Sea coast while South Ossetian refugees headed north to Russia. Those left behind in devastated regions of Georgia cowered in rat-infested cellars or wandered nearly deserted cities.

Russia has accused Georgia of killing more than 2,000 people, mostly civilians, in South Ossetia. The claim couldn't be independently confirmed, but witnesses who fled the area over the weekend said hundreds had died.

Georgia says at least 175 Georgians have died in Russian air and ground attacks.

The Russia-Georgia dispute also reached the international courts, with the Georgian security council saying it had sued Russia for alleged ethnic cleansing.

The rights group Human Rights Watch said today it has witnessed South Ossetian fighters looting ethnic Georgians' houses and has recorded multiple accounts of Georgian militias intimidating ethnic Ossetians. The report was important independent confirmation of the claims by each side in the Russia-Georgia conflict.

At the Beijing Olympics, Georgian women rallied today to beat their Russian counterparts in beach volleyball, the first head-to-head clash of the two nations.

"Russia and Georgia are actually friends. People are friends," said the Georgian beach volleyball team leader, Levan Akhtulediani. "But you know, it's not, in the 21st century, to bomb a neighbor country, it's not a good idea."

"I say once again, its better to compete on the field rather than outside the field," he added.


Associated Press writers Christopher Torchia reported from Zugdidi, Georgia, and near the Kodori Gorge; Matti Friedman and Sergei Grits from outside Gori, Georgia; Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili and David Nowak from Tbilisi, Georgia; Jim Heintz, Vladimir Isachenkov, Lynn Berry and Angela Charlton in Moscow; Pauline Jelinek and Lolita C. Baldor in Washington and John Heilprin at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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