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Tensions Remain High in Georgia Despite Reported Russian Pullout

Russian and Georgian leaders traded accusations of failing to observe a key part of their cease-fire agreement Tuesday, as foreign ministers from NATO convened in Brussels to figure out how to respond to the conflict that erupted in Georgia's breakaway region of South Ossetia. The two sides did, however, agree to release prisoners in a gesture of goodwill, but tensions remain high. Emma Stickgold has this report for the VOA in Moscow.

Reporters in the region watched Tuesday as a line of Russian armored vehicles left Gori to head to Tskhinvali, the South Ossetian capital, and then on to Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia, which lies within Russia's borders.

But a Georgian official dismissed this movement of troops as "a show aimed at creating the illusion of a withdrawal."

Russia's permanent envoy to NATO told French radio the pullout will take several days.

A top Russian general, who has become the face of the Russian army through his daily news conferences, explains that the pullout will take longer than anticipated because Georgian forces have yet to return to their permanent bases.

He said that such actions "seriously complicate the general situation and impede the withdrawal process." Russian forces have come across a lot of abandoned military vehicles and equipment cast aside by Georgian forces, which has slowed the movement of Russian forces down, he said.

Georgia's foreign ministry said that Russia is "gravely violating" the conditions set forth in the French-brokered peace accord. They cite Senaki, a western Georgian city with a military base, which Russia reoccupied Monday, according to the ministry.

In another development, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Tuesday the sides have agreed to allow 20 military observers into the South Ossetia area.

Earlier, Russia and Georgia exchanged prisoners taken during the last two weeks of conflict. A Georgian government official said the exchange in the village of Igoeti included five Russians and 15 Georgians.

At a meeting Tuesday, NATO foreign ministers have said there will be "no business as usual" with Russia, as they urged Moscow to pull its troops out of Georgia immediately.

The declaration followed emergency talks in Brussels about the conflict with Georgia over its breakaway region of South Ossetia.

The conflict broke out earlier this month when Georgian troops attacked South Ossetia, prompted Russia to unleash an attack that dismantled the Georgian army, and spread far beyond the original regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.