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Russia signs Georgia truce, uncertainty remains

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[August 16, 2008]  IGOETI, Georgia (AP) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a truce with Georgia on Saturday, a definitive step toward ending the fighting there despite the uncertainty on the ground reflected by Russian soldiers digging in just 30 miles from the Georgian capital.

Medvedev spokesman Alexei Pavlov said Medvedev signed the agreement in the resort city of Sochi, where the president has a summer residence, but did not give further details. It was not immediately clear if any troops had begun pulling back after Medvedev signed the cease-fire.

The agreement was signed by Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili the day before. It calls for both sides forces to pull back to positions they held before fighting erupted Aug. 8 after 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 then drove deep into Georgia.

The Russian seizure of territory including the strategic city of Gori about 20 miles from Igoeti, raised fears that Russia aimed for a permanent occupation of the country that was once was part of its empire.

The shallow foxholes being gouged out of the earth at Igoeti on Saturday could indicate the Russians' intention to stay awhile. But they could be meant for defensive positions to guard their comrades as they withdraw.

Farther up the road toward Gori, a Russian armored personnel carrier sat behind a newly made earthen embankment. Other military vehicles were on the roadside, camouflaged by tree branches.

Refugees have begun returning to the heavily damaged South Ossetian capital of Tskhinvali. On Saturday, many were sweeping up glass and debris from the fighting.

Teams of ethnic Georgians, some under armed guard, were being forced to clean the streets of South Ossetia's capital on Saturday. It was the first apparent evidence of humiliation or abuse of Georgians in the breakaway republic.

Mikhail Mindzayev, the interior minister for South Ossetia said police were cracking down on looters. Officers shot and killed two looters on Thursday, he said, and if they catch someone with a car or truck loaded with furniture or TV sets - and the driver does not seem to be the rightful owner - both the goods and the car will be burned.

Mindzayev described the situation in the city Saturday as "complicated and nervous." He said that there were many unexploded shells laying on the ground. He also accused Georgian agents of shooting at people in the city, a claim that could not be independently confirmed.

Russian Emergency Situations Ministry troops were erecting a camp near the scorched shell of the South Ossetian parliament building. For the first time in days, there were more cars on the street than tanks.

Farther south, the Russian presence in Gori is strategically critical: The city sits along Georgia's only significant east-west highway, allowing the Russians effectively to split the nation in two.

As in many parts of Georgia, aid has been slow to come. On Thursday, staff from the United Nations refugee agency and its World Food Program hoped to enter Gori to assess whether it was safe to deliver humanitarian aid.

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The situation turned ugly. South Ossetian militiamen appeared, pointing weapons, and began shoving civilians and shouting at people to leave the area.

Georgian police had come to enter Gori but turned back when confrontation developed between the Russian military and the Georgian army.

On Friday, Russian military vehicles were blocking the eastern road into the city, although they allowed in one Georgia bus filled with loaves of bread.

Garadzim Tamgiashvili, 46, an unemployed electrician with graying red hair, said there was a lot of looting in the city by South Ossetians and Russians before the Russian military arrived. He said they killed civilians.

He said the Russian soldiers told him they planned to "give it to the Americans."


"We know this is a war between the West and Russia," he said.

Residents reported atrocities in the villages between Gori and Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian provincial capital. Outside Gori, an Associated Press reporter saw a burning wheat field. In the village of Tirdznise, the body of a Georgian soldier lay swollen in the heat.

But for the moment, Gori itself seemed to be a showcase. The Russian troops had stopped the looting, restored order.

One of the few younger women left was Iya Kinvilashvili, 30, the owner of a now-empty shop. Standing next to a church that has organized handouts of bread and flour, she said the Russians were behaving well.


"When is peace coming?" she asked. "We only want peace. We never wanted this war."


Associated Press writers Mansur Mirovalev in Gori and Tskhinvali and Jim Heintz in Moscow contributed to this report.

[Associated Press; By CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA]

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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