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France Says Russia to Begin Troop Pullout From Georgia Monday

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Russia's president said Sunday that Russian troops will begin pulling out of Georgia on Monday, as Western leaders called on Moscow to abide by its commitments under a cease-fire deal. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who brokered the truce, warned the Russian leader that failure to implement the cease-fire would have "serious consequences" for Russian ties with the European Union. Emma Stickgold has this report for VOA from Moscow.

French President Sarkozy's office confirmed that Russian President Dmitri Medvedev vowed in a telephone conversation with the French leader to begin moving troops out of Georgia on Monday.

A statement from the French president's office noted that the cease-fire deal, signed Saturday, requires the withdrawal of all Russian forces, "which have entered Georgia since August 7." It said the two presidents also agreed on deployment as soon as possible of international observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Fighting began August 7 between Georgian troops and separatists in the breakaway region of South Ossetia. Georgian forces say they acted after coming under Russian fire. Russia says it moved into Georgia to protect its citizens in South Ossetia, many of whom have been given Russian passports.

It was not clear Sunday whether Russia intends to withdraw from South Ossetia and another separatist region in Georgia, Abkhazia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said last week that Georgia can forget about getting back the separatist regions. On Sunday, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said Georgia would not give up those regions.

"As I said and one thing will be made very clear, Georgia will never give up any square mile/kilometre of its territory," said Mr. Saakashvili. "No matter what happens, we will never reconcile with the fact of annexation, or indeed separation of parts of territory from Georgia with the attempt to legalize ethnic cleansing, and with the attempts to bring Georgia to its knees and undermine our democratic system."

Mr. Saakashvili also said Russian troops staying in the separatist regions cannot be called "peacekeepers" after the events of the past week. He spoke at a joint news conference with visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who urged a prompt withdrawal of Russian troops.

The cease-fire agreement, brokered by the French President in his capacity as head of the European Union, calls for troops to return to their pre-conflict positions, and allows Russian peacekeepers to patrol parts of South Ossetia.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday that the cease-fire agreement allows Russian troops stationed as peacekeepers to stay temporarily in some areas, until European monitors arrive.  
 

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