News & Current Affairs

July 11, 2009

Most of Xinjiang dead ‘Chinese’

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:29 pm

Most of Xinjiang dead ‘Chinese’

Chinese security forces line uop on a square in Urumqi, 11 July

Security forces continued to patrol Urumqi on Saturday

Some three-quarters of the victims of the violence in China’s western Xinjiang region were ethnic Han Chinese, the official death toll shows.

Of 184 people known to have died, 137 were Han Chinese, 46 were from the indigenous Uighur community and one was an ethnic Hui, local officials said.

Beijing flooded the regional capital Urumqi with security forces to stem the violence which erupted last Sunday.

Correspondents say some Uighurs believe their own death toll was much higher.

“I’ve heard that more than 100 Uighurs have died but nobody wants to talk about it in public,” one Uighur man in Urumqi who did not want to give his name told the Associated Press news agency.

Uighurs living in exile outside China have also disputed the Chinese figures. Rebiya Kadeer, the US-based head of the World Uighur Congress, said she believed about 500 people had died.

According to the Chinese death toll released by state media, 26 of the 137 Han Chinese victims were female, while all but one of the 45 Uighurs killed were male.

The single death recorded in the Hui community, which is similar to the Uighurs ethnically and religiously, was that of a male.

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July 3, 2009

Deadly military crash in Pakistan

Filed under: Latest, Politics News — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 6:32 pm

Deadly military crash in Pakistan

Pakistani military MI-17 helicopter (3.6.09)

Pakistan uses military helicopters widely in the rugged north-west region

Up to 26 Pakistani security personnel are feared dead after an army transport helicopter crashed in the tribal region of Orakzai, military officials say.

Maj Gen Athar Abbas told the news the helicopter crashed on the border of the Khyber and Orakzai tribal region.

The cause of the crash is unclear, although officials said the most likely explanation was a technical failure.

The crash comes as a suspected US drone strike in South Waziristan killed at least 10 militants, officials said.

The Mike Wooldridge in Islamabad says it is understood the MI-17 helicopter had been flying back to Peshawar from the Afghan border region when the pilot put out a Mayday alert.

Map locator

The helicopter then came down “in a hostile area” where it was fired upon by militants, according to officials.

Troops were sent in and exchanged fire with the insurgents.

Military officials said that an investigation into the crash would be carried out.

But our correspondent says it is a serious blow for the Pakistani military as it prepares for the next phase of its offensive against Taliban militants in the north-west tribal belt along the Afghan border.

In the latest fighting, military jets are reported to have attacked suspected Taliban positions in South and North Waziristan.

Unnamed intelligence officials said the drone attack in South Waziristan had targeted a militant training facility.

The region – on the Afghan border – is controlled by Pakistan’s most senior Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud.

September 16, 2008

Leaders debate Bolivia turmoil


Leaders debate Bolivia turmoil

President Evo Morales speaks on arrival at Santiago airport on 15 September 2008

Mr Morales wants to give more rights to Bolivia’s indigenous community

An emergency summit of South American leaders has opened in Chile to address deepening tensions in Bolivia.

In the last week, at least 30 people have been killed in violence between government supporters and opponents.

Bolivian President Evo Morales has likened the unrest in opposition-controlled regions of his country to an attempted coup.

He said the meeting was important as democracy had to be defended not only in Bolivia but all of South America.

The unrest represents the most serious challenge to Mr Morales since he took office almost three years ago.

Chilean President Michelle Bachelet called the emergency meeting of the Union of South American Nations (Unasur) on Sunday, to help resolve the crisis.

Energy fears

Arriving in Santiago, Evo Morales said he had come “to explain to the presidents of South America the civic coup d’etat by governors in some Bolivian states in recent days”.

“We’ve seen looting, the ransacking of institutions, attempts to assault the police and the armed forces,” he said

The unrest centers on his decision to hold a referendum on a new constitution in December.

Bolivian Vice-President Alvaro Garcia (right) opposition leader Mario Cossio (left) hold talks in La Paz

The Bolivian vice president has held talks with an opposition representative

Mr Morales says he wants to re-distribute Bolivia’s wealth and give a greater voice to the large indigenous community.

But opposition leaders oppose the plan and demand greater autonomy as well as more control over natural gas revenues in their areas.

Trouble has flared in several eastern provinces and cities, with opposition supporters occupying government buildings. On Friday, Mr Morales declared martial law in the Pando region, which has seen deadly clashes between rival factions.

Most of the leaders of Unasur’s 12 member-nations are attending the summit in a bid to solve the crisis.

The correspondent in the region says that no one in South America wants the situation in Bolivia to escalate.

Neighboring Brazil and Argentina are particularly worried about their supplies of natural gas, which come from the east of the country where the dispute is at its most severe.

But, our correspondent adds, it is not clear what the meeting in Chile can achieve. Representatives of Bolivia’s opposition are not attending the summit.

map

There have been some talks between the two sides, however.

On Sunday night Bolivian Vice-President Alvaro Garcia met opposition representative Mario Cossio, the governor of Tarija province. They agreed to hold more talks when Mr Morales returns from Chile.

The unrest in Bolivia has triggered a downturn in relations with the US.

Last week Bolivia accused the US of supporting the opposition and expelled its ambassador. Venezuela followed suit to show solidarity and Honduras has refused to accept the credentials of a new US envoy.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said the unrest in Bolivia was “a conspiracy directed by the US empire”, likening it to the 1973 CIA-backed coup which ousted Chile’s President Salvador Allende.

The US says it regrets the recent diplomatic expulsions and has rejected Bolivia’s allegations against its ambassador.

September 5, 2008

Easyjet’s passenger numbers rise

Easyjet’s passenger numbers rise

easyjet plane

Eayjet’s passenger traffic is up despite difficult market conditions

Easyjet has said that the number of passengers it flew in August this year rose 24% on the same month last year.

Europe’s second-largest budget airline said it transported some 4.6 million passengers in August 2008, compared to 3.7 million in August 2007.

Aer Lingus also saw an increase, flying 8.8% more passengers this August than in August 2007.

On a rolling 12-month basis to August 2008, Easyjet increased passenger numbers by 16.6%.

The number of seats filled also increased to 91.3% from 87.4% last August.

At Aer Lingus the load factor was 80.5% in August, a slight dip on 81.7% a year ago.

Easyjet shares were down 2% at 1005 BST, while Aer Lingus shares were down 0.9%.

Industry turbulence

The figures for Easyjet and Aer Lingus are relatively strong compared with those released on Friday by Scandinavian airline SAS.

SAS, which is partly owned by the governments of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, said traffic for August measured in revenue passenger kilometres, fell 0.7% and demand was weakening further.

Airlines worldwide have been effected by the economic deceleration and several airlines, including business airlines Silverjet, Maxjet and Eon and budget airline Zoom, have folded.

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA), global airlines will post losses in the region of $5.2bn (£2.96bn) this year and $4.1bn in 2009.

August 30, 2008

Gustav strengthens off west Cuba

Gustav strengthens off west Cuba

Hurricane Gustav has strengthened into a “major” category three storm as it nears western Cuba, US forecasters say.

Cuban civil defence forces have been put on alert, and a mass evacuation is under way in low-lying coastal areas, where mudslides and floods are feared.

Gustav has already struck the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, killing more than 70 people.

It could become a category four storm over the weekend as it passes over warm waters and heads for the US Gulf Coast.

Predicted route of Hurricane Gustav (29 August 2008)

Cuban authorities have evacuated more than 60,000 people from low-lying coastal areas in Pinar del Rio and Isla de la Juventud before Gustav hits, and have mobilised medical and emergency rescue teams to deal with the possible aftermath.

All buses and trains to and from Havana have also been suspended until further notice.

The Caribbean island has one of the most efficient disaster preparedness and evacuation organisations in the region, but that the poor condition of housing in the capital could pose additional risks in a major storm.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has said it expects a “huge number” of residents will be told to leave the region over the weekend.

Gustav’s approach came as New Orleans buried some of the last unidentified victims of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city in 2005.

Cuba concern

As of 1000 GMT on Saturday, Gustav had become a “major” category three hurricane with wind speeds of up to 185km/h (115mph) as it passed about 220km (135 miles) south-east of Isla de la Juventud and about 410km (255 miles) east-south-east of the western tip of Cuba, the US National Hurricane Center said.

We look ahead to a better day, as we also prepare ourselves for another threat
Ray Nagin
Mayor of New Orleans

The storm will move away from the Cayman Islands on Saturday morning at about 19km/h (12mph) before passing through western Cuba later in the afternoon and into the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.

Gustav has already claimed the lives of at least 59 people in Haiti, eight in the Dominican Republic and four in Jamaica, where heavy rains caused flooding and strong winds tore roofs off houses.

There have so far been no reports of any casualties from the Cayman Islands, where storm surge and heavy rains flooded streets overnight.

The government did not impose a curfew, but urged people to remain indoors to avoid interfering with emergency workers.

Gustav’s projected path also takes it over the oil-producing Gulf of Mexico, where workers have been evacuated from several rigs.

Katrina compassion

New Orleans buried the last seven unclaimed bodies of Katrina at a memorial site on Friday as the biggest storm to hit the region since approached.

A memorial service in New Orleans for victims of Hurricane Katrina (29/08/2008)

New Orleans buried the last unclaimed bodies from Katrina on Friday

“We look ahead to a better day, as we also prepare ourselves for another threat,” said Mayor Ray Nagin.

Later, Mr Nagin said an evacuation order was likely, though not before Saturday.

Gustav is forecast to make landfall on the US Gulf Coast anywhere from south Texas to Florida by Tuesday, prompting four states to plan large-scale evacuations.

Emergency officials have warned that a tidal storm surge up to nine metres (30ft) is possible along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

US President George W Bush has declared a state of emergency in Louisiana and Texas, allowing the federal government to co-ordinate disaster relief and provide assistance in storm-affected areas.

Gustav is the second major hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.


Have you been affected by Gustav? Are you preparing for its arrival? Send us your comments and experiences

August 25, 2008

Russian MPs back Georgia’s rebels

Russian MPs back Georgia’s rebels

An Abkhaz separatist tank crewman relaxes in the Kodori Gorge on 14 August

Abkhazia used the Ossetia conflict to drive out remaining Georgian troops

Both houses of Russia’s parliament have urged the president to recognise the independence of Georgia’s breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The unanimous votes in the Federation Council and State Duma are not binding on President Dmitry Medvedev.

But they could provide Mr Medvedev with bargaining chips in talks with the West, analysts say.

Russia fought a brief war with Georgia this month after Tbilisi tried to retake South Ossetia by military force.

Most of Russian ground forces pulled out of Georgia last Friday, following a French-brokered ceasefire agreement between Moscow and Tbilisi.

It’s a historic day for Abkhazia… and South Ossetia
Sergei Bagapsh, Abkhazian leader

But some Russian troops continue to operate near the Black Sea port of Poti, south of Abkhazia, and have established checkpoints around South Ossetia.

On Monday, a senior Russian commander said Russian troops would be carrying out regular inspections of cargo in Poti.

Moscow has defended plans to keep its forces near the port, saying it does not break the terms of the truce.

Russia has also said it will not allow aerial reconnaissance in the buffer zones it had set up.

The US, France and UK say Russia has already failed to comply with the ceasefire terms by creating buffer zones around South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

Both regions have had de facto independence since breaking away in the early 1990s.

While they have enjoyed Russian economic and diplomatic support, and military protection, no foreign state has recognised them as independent states.

Since the fighting over South Ossetia ended nearly two weeks ago with the ejection of Georgian forces from both provinces, the Russian military has established controversial buffer zones along their administrative borders with Georgia proper.

‘Hitler’ comparison

The upper house, Federation Council, voted 130-0 to call on President Medvedev to support the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The lower house, the State Duma, approved the same resolution in a 447-0 vote shortly afterwards.

South Ossetians demonstrate for independence in Tskhinvali on 21 August

South Ossetians rallied for independence last week

The Federation Council speaker, Sergei Mironov, said both Abkhazia and South Ossetia had all the necessary attributes of independent states.

During the debate in the two chambers, several speakers compared Georgia’s military action in South Ossetia with Hitler’s Second World War invasion of the Soviet Union.

Both Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh and his South Ossetian counterpart, Eduard Kokoity, addressed the Russian lawmakers before the votes, urging them to recognise the independence of the two regions.

“It’s a historic day for Abkhazia… and South Ossetia,” UK said, adding that Abkhazia would never again be part of Georgia.

Mr Kokoity thanked Russia for supporting South Ossetia during the conflict with Georgia, describing President Medvedev’s move to deploy troops as “a courageous, timely and correct” decision.

He said that South Ossetia and Abkhazia had more rights to become recognised nations than Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia earlier this year with support from the US and much of the European Union.

Both houses of the Russian parliament are dominated by allies of President Medvedev and his Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin.

The lawmakers interrupted their summer holidays for extraordinary sittings, formally called at the request of separatist leaders in the two Georgian provinces.

Thousands of people attended pro-independence rallies in the Abkhaz capital Sukhumi and war-ravaged South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali on Thursday.

Kosovo or Northern Cyprus?

While both provinces have been pushing for formal independence since the break-up of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, Russia’s official line at least until now has been similar to that of the West, the BBC’s Humphrey Hawksley reports from Moscow.

BBC map

But in March the State Duma passed a resolution supporting independence should Georgia invade or rush to join Nato.

After Monday’s votes, the bill will be sent to the Kremlin for approval.

Analysts say the Kremlin might delay its decision while it carries out wider negotiations with the West on the crisis, says our correspondent.

If it backs the move, the two regions could apply to the United Nations for recognition, which would almost certainly be vetoed in the Security Council.

They could also ask for support from Russia’s allies from as far afield as Venezuela and Cuba, our correspondent notes.

Analysts say the two new aspirant nations could end up like Kosovo and be accepted by a substantial number of governments.

Alternatively, they could become largely isolated and recognised only by Russia, in the same way that Northern Cyprus is recognised only by Turkey.

Much of it would depend on the measure of Russia’s international influence, our correspondent adds.


Should Abkhazia and South Ossetia be independent? Can normal life ever be resumed in Georgia?

Send in your comments

August 23, 2008

Muslims in huge Kashmir protest

Muslims in huge Kashmir protest

Muslims protest in Srinagar 22 August

The protests have been going on for two months

Hundreds of thousands of Muslims have taken part in a protest rally called by separatist leaders in Indian-controlled Kashmir’s main city, Srinagar.

The rally ended with the leaders calling a three-day strike, beginning Saturday, in the Kashmir valley.

This is the fourth big protest in the Muslim-dominated valley in less than two weeks.

Anti-Indian sentiment has grown following a dispute over the granting of land to a Hindu shrine organization.

More than 21 people died last week in the valley after police fired on protesters.

Trouble began two months ago when the state government granted a small piece of land to a trust running the Amarnath Hindu shrine.

After violent protests by Muslims in the valley, the order was rescinded which led to equally violent protests in the Hindu-dominated Jammu region of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.

Friday’s protests come after three days of relative calm in the valley which allowed residents to stock up on supplies.

Cheering supporters

Through the morning, hundreds of vehicles and thousands of people on foot marched towards the Eidgah ground in the old city area of Srinagar.

Schools, businesses and shops were shut across the region and a large number of troops deployed on the streets.

The support for the marchers could be gauged from the fact that a large number of people – including women – were lined up by the road-side cheering them on.

In many places, the marchers were offered fruit juices and women could be seen praying for their success, our correspondent says.

The crowds thronged the Eidgah ground where senior separatist leaders Syed Ali Shah Geelani, Maulvi Omar Farooq, Shabbir Shah and Yasin Malik took stage.

However, they could not address the rally as the public address system got disconnected by the milling crowds.

The row started two months ago when the state government said it would grant 99 acres (40 hectares) of forest land to the Amarnath Shrine Board.

Muslims launched violent protests, saying the allocation of land was aimed at altering the demographic balance in the area.

The state government said the shrine board needed the land to erect huts and toilets for visiting pilgrims.

But following days of protests, the government rescinded the order, prompting Hindu groups to mount violent protests of their own.


Are you in Srinagar? Have you been affected by the protests? Send us your experiences

August 22, 2008

Russia to keep posts in Georgia

Filed under: Latest — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , — expressyoureself @ 4:59 pm

Russia to keep posts in Georgia

A senior Russian general says Moscow intends to maintain a military presence of more than 2,000 troops in Georgia.

Gen Anatoly Nogovitsyn said Russian forces would be stationed around the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the focus of recent conflict.

Correspondents on the ground say they have seen what appears to be a significant troop movement from Georgian positions to South Ossetia.

Georgia has said it will not accept any “annexation” of its land by Russia.

Russia’s land forces commander earlier said that all Russian combat troops would be moved back from Georgia proper to South Ossetia by the weekend and that most of the soldiers sent to the region as reinforcements would return to Russia within 10 days.

Correspondent says he has witnessed hundreds of Russian armored vehicles, including tanks and armored personnel carriers, withdrawing from the town of Igoeti, about 35km (21 miles) from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi.

Our correspondent says buses of Georgian police are arriving to take control after Russian troops removed their road block and pulled out.

There are also reports of a pull-back from the Georgian flashpoint town of Gori to South Ossetia.

‘Snail’s pace’

At a briefing in Moscow, the deputy chief of the Russian military general staff, Gen Nogovitsyn, said the withdrawal of all combat troops was going according to plan.

“The troop pull-back has been started at a rate to make sure that the Russian troops be within the zone of responsibility of the Russian peacekeeping contingent by the end of 22 August,” he said.

“We are not going to correct this plan or increase the speed of withdrawal.”

Gen Nogovitsyn said Russian troops were setting up checkpoints on the borders of South Ossetia and Abkhazia with Georgia.

The so-called zone of responsibility also includes Georgia’s main airbase at Senaki, and cuts across Georgia’s main east-west highway, which stretches from Tbilisi to the Black Sea.

Russian officials say the zone was established in principle in an agreement between Russia and Georgia which pre-dates this month’s conflict, but was never put into force.

Georgian State Minister for Reintegration Temur Iakobashvili told Reuters that such a zone was “a violation of any agreement”.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

Russia’s four-day war with Georgia began after Tbilisi tried to retake the Moscow-backed breakaway province of South Ossetia on 7 August, following days of clashes with separatists.

The fighting ended with an EU-brokered ceasefire deal, and a promise by Moscow to pull back its forces by 22 August.

But the commander of US forces in Europe, Gen John Craddock, said Russia was taking too long to pull back, saying “if they are moving, it is at a snail’s pace”.

The first of the Russian Black Sea Fleet warships, which have been deployed off the west coast of Georgia’s province of Abkhazia, has returned to its base at Sevastopol in Ukraine.

Ukraine’s President Viktor Yushchenko criticised Russia’s use of ships from the base leased to Moscow, saying there was a danger of his country being passively drawn into an international conflict against its will. Protesters reportedly greeted the ship’s return on Friday.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has arrived in the capital of South Ossetia, Tskhinvali, to assess the humanitarian situation there.

Thousands of civilians are reported to be in urgent need of relief supplies.

The UN estimates that nearly 160,000 people have been displaced across the whole of Georgia since the conflict began.

The Georgian government is seeking $1-2bn (£0.5-1bn) in aid to repair and develop infrastructure following the conflict with Russia, the head of the US government aid agency, USAid, said. The World Bank has also announced that it is sending a team of experts to the country to assess its reconstruction needs.

‘War with Nato’

Diplomatic efforts at the UN have reached deadlock over rival resolutions on the crisis from France and Russia.

A woman walks down a destroyed main street in Tskhinvali, South Ossetia

Thousands of civilians are reported to be in urgent need of relief supplies

Russia has reiterated its opposition to a rival French text, which reaffirms Georgia’s territorial integrity.

Georgia’s President Mikhail Saakashvili told the BBC he would never accept what he called Russia’s “annexation of its territory”.

He warned that Russia’s involvement in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Georgia were intended to send a strong message to the West.

“If Nato fails now to come up with a united response, nobody’s safe, even if they are in Nato already,” he said.

“It’s all about reconsidering the role of Nato, the role of international law and borders in this part of the world. This is no longer about Georgia anymore.

“Russia decided to win war with Nato without firing a single shot at it.”

A Nato spokeswoman says Russia’s defence ministry has decided to halt all military co-operation with the bloc to protest at what Moscow calls the alliance’s biased, pro-Georgian view of the conflict.

The move by Moscow followed a Nato statement that there would be no “business as usual” with Moscow unless its troops pulled out of Georgia.

Georgia map

August 20, 2008

Russia rejects UN Georgia draft

Russia rejects UN Georgia draft

Captive Georgians atop of a Russian tank in Poti, Georgia, on 19 August 2008

Russia paraded captive Georgians on armoured vehicles

Russia has rejected a draft UN Security Council resolution on Georgia, saying it contradicted the terms of last week’s ceasefire deal.

The draft text called on Russia to pull back its forces to the positions held before the current conflict.

But Russia says the truce allows its troops to stay in a buffer zone on the Georgia side of South Ossetia’s border.

Moscow earlier dismissed a NATO warning that normal relations were impossible while its troops remained in Georgia.

The conflict broke out on 7 August when Georgia launched an assault to wrest back control of the Moscow-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia, triggering a counter-offensive by Russian troops who advanced beyond South Ossetia into Georgia’s heartland.

Georgia says its action was in response to continuous provocation.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband, who is visiting the region, is to visit a camp for displaced people in Georgia on Wednesday. Tens of thousand of people have been made homeless by the recent conflict.

PEACE PLAN
No more use of force
Stop all military actions for good
Free access to humanitarian aid
Georgian troops return to their places of permanent deployment
Russian troops to return to pre-conflict positions
International talks about security in South Ossetia and Abkhazia

On Tuesday, Mr Miliband held talks with Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili in the Georgian capital, Tbilisi, to update him on Nato’s reaction at an emergency meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels which demanded that Russia pull its troops out of Georgia.

The foreign secretary criticised Russia’s failure to keep to a promise to withdraw troops from Georgia.

Meanwhile, a Russia’s main security service, the FSB, says a Russian officer has been detained accused of spying for Georgia.

An ethnic Georgian, Mikhail Khachidze was arrested in the southern Russian region of Stavropol near Georgia, an FSB spokesman said.

“[He] was involved in collecting secret information on Russian armed forces, its combat readiness as well as data on other servicemen,” he said.

Russian veto

At the UN, Russia’s ambassador said the French-drafted UN resolution went against the terms of the ceasefire brokered by France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Vitaly Churkin said the resolution should incorporate all elements of the six-point peace plan agreed last week.

He also objected to language in the draft reaffirming Georgia’s territorial integrity, saying South Ossetia and Abkhazia did not want to be part of Georgia.

Russia can veto UN resolutions and the ambassador told the BBC that putting the text to a vote would be pointless.

He said: “It’s a waste of time because the process of the withdrawal of Russian forces will continue.”

HAVE YOUR SAY
As an American, I find Bush’s and Rice’s comments regarding the attacks on a sovereign nation in the 21st Century just too embarrassing to bear

B Coyle, Maryland

Following a rebuke from Nato’s 26 foreign ministers in Brussels, Moscow accused NATO of bias in favor of the “criminal regime” in Tbilisi.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Russia risked becoming the “outlaw” of the conflict, in an interview with CBS news on the sidelines of the NATO emergency meeting.

Russia says President Dmitry Medvedev told President Sarkozy that by Friday, Russian troops would either be sent home, be pulled back to South Ossetia or to a buffer zone along the border.

Russia said it had begun a pullback on Tuesday as it withdrew 11 military vehicles from the Georgian town of Gori.

A Russian officer told reporters invited to watch that the column was heading for South Ossetia and then home to Russia, but Georgia dismissed it all as a show.

Correspondents there say there are still several artillery positions and checkpoints in Gori.

And the operators of the Georgian Black Sea port of Poti told the BBC that Russian forces had seized the commercial harbour.

In an apparent goodwill gesture on Tuesday, the two sides exchanged prisoners at a checkpoint near Tbilisi, but on the same day Russia paraded captive Georgians on armored vehicles.

Map of region

August 14, 2008

Russia begins Georgia handover

Russia begins Georgia handover

Russian soldier near Gori, 13 August 2008

Russia insists its troops remain in Georgia for security purposes only

Russian troops have begun handing over control of the area around the town of Gori to Georgian security forces.

But a Russian general in the area said Moscow’s troops would remain nearby for several days to remove weaponry and help restore law and order in Gori.

Overnight the US secretary of state urged Moscow to meet its own pledge to pull troops out of Georgia altogether.

Georgia attacked the rebel region of South Ossetia from Gori a week ago and the town has remained a key flash point.

Russian troops occupied the town after they pushed Georgian forces out of South Ossetia, sparking a mass retreat from the city by Georgian troops and civilians.

Gori has also come under air attack, with reports of Russian planes bombing the town after Moscow declared an end to its military operation on Tuesday.

And Russia’s continued deployment of troops in Gori raised concerns that the Kremlin would not make a quick withdrawal from Georgian territory, despite agreeing to a European peace plan.

Safety ‘improved’

Moscow insists that the purpose of its continuing presence in Georgia proper is to hand over security to the Georgian police and to remove abandoned weapons and ammunition.

In Gori, I saw lorries full of bodies being delivered to the hostpial every day. So many people have died, why is the government lying?

Local residents reported feeling safe and secure on Wednesday night, our correspondent says, with Russian troops clearly in charge of the town.

The Russian general co-ordinating the return of Georgian police and security forces to Gori urged residents – many of whom left town as the Georgian army retreated on Monday – to return to their homes and re-open their shops, our correspondent adds.

Russian troops were allowing armed Georgian police back into the town, and would not leave until order is restored, Gen Vyacheslav Borisov said.

US steadfast

The Georgian government says that 175 people, mainly civilians, were killed during the conflict with Russia and South Ossetian separatist forces.

Russia, which says that 74 of its troops were killed, reports that more than 2,000 people died in South Ossetia, the vast majority civilians allegedly killed in the Georgian attack.

While none of the casualty figures have been verified independently, the UN refugee agency estimates that some 100,000 people have been displaced by the fighting, both from South Ossetia and Georgia proper.

Both sides have accused each other of committing atrocities during the conflict, although little conclusive evidence has been found.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said on Wednesday night Russia faced international “isolation” if it refused to respect the truce, brokered by French and current EU President Nicolas Sarkozy.

She spoke hours after Russian tanks were seen moving out of Gori on the main road to the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. Amid widespread concern the armored column eventually turned off the main road and troops began work to destroy or disable Georgian army bases.

“We expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country,” Ms Rice said later in Washington, before leaving on a diplomatic mission to France and Georgia.

There was, she said, a “very strong, growing sense that Russia is not behaving like the kind of international partner that it has said that it wants to be”.

And the US special envoy to the region, Matthew Bryza, told the BBC that the outbreak of violence in the Caucasus strengthened Georgia’s case to join the Nato alliance.

“Russia, a country with 30 times the population [of Georgia] decided to roll into its much smaller neighbour and tried to roll over it. It failed to roll over Georgia, but it would never have even thought of doing this if Georgia were already a member of Nato,” he said.

Map of region
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