Russian troops have begun withdrawing from Poti, a strategic port on the Black Sea, as part of an accord concluded this week between Russia and the European Union. (photo, from aljazeera.net)
A convoy of lorries and armoured transport vehicles left a camp on the outskirts of Poti, reported witnesses, where about 70 soldiers were housed.
Besides, Russian forces were also seen pulling out from a number of other positions, between Poti and Senaki, the nearby town.
“They left in APCs and trucks, taking everything with them”, said a Reuters news agency reporter at the scene. “The positions on the way to Senaki have also gone.”
Shota Utiashvili, Georgia’s interior ministry spokesman, said : “I can confirm that the five Russian checkpoints on the Poti-Senaki axis have been removed. The Russian troops are heading towards Abkhazia.”
According to Alexander Lomaia, the chief of Georgia’s security council, about 250 soldiers and more than 20 armoured vehicles had withdrawn.
Moscow agreed on Monday to withdraw its troops within a month, from positions in areas of Georgia outside the separatist regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.
Since Russian forces moved in to support the South Ossetian separatists, hundreds of soldiers have been manning checkpoints and carrying out patrols in strategically important areas of the country.
In Tbilisi, the Georgian capital, Matthew Collin, a journalist, told Al Jazeera that interior ministry officials were saying that despite Saturday’s movements, more than 20 Russian checkpoints remained.
After recognising South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states last month, the Kremlin said that Russia will keep about 7 600 troops there.
The withdrawal agreement was made possible after the EU offered guarantees that Georgia would refrain from any use of force against the regions, said Dimtry Medvedev, the Russian president.
The accord depends on the deployment of an international monitoring force, including 200 members from the European Union.
In the same time, Mikhail Saakashvili, Georgia’s president, has come under fire from a former political ally for the way he handled the events in the run-up to the conflict.
On Friday, Nino Burjanadze, a former speaker of parliament, said : “There is a time for tough questions. Of course, what happened was a Russian provocation, but we need to know whether it was possible to not yield to this provocation.”
She also called for an independent investigation to ask “tough questions” about the president’s leadership.
After Georgian troops began a heavy bombardment of Tskhinvali, the capital of South Ossetia, on August 8, Russian forces moved in.