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Georgian Officials Deny Russian Claims of Troop Withdrawal From Occupied Areas

Russian military leaders said today that their troops began retreating from areas they occupied in Georgia, in keeping with a pledge made Sunday and repeated on Monday by President Dmitri Medvedev. Georgian officials said that they could see no signs of the troop withdrawal, which the two countries agreed to in a French-brokered peace agreement. Emma Stickgold has this report for VOA from Moscow.

It seemed earlier in the day that Russia was bolstering its position in Gori, the Georgian city that has been one of the focal points in the conflict. But a Russian army commander said that Russian forces have started to leave the city. Georgian officials, however, say Russian troops remain in key positions inside their country beyond the breakaway region of South Ossetia.

General Anatoly Nogovitsyn, the deputy head of Russia's general staff, said in his now-daily news conference, that Russian troops were heading back to South Ossetia.

General Nogovitsyn said the Russian troops were going to South Ossetia and a security zone defined by a 1999 agreement of the "joint control commission" that had been nominally in charge of South Ossetia's status since it split from Georgia in the early 1990s.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says Russia must follow through on its promise to leave Georgia.

"Yet again, the Russian president has given his word, and I hope this time he will honor it," she said.

Rice was speaking on the Fox News Sunday television program. Rice left Washington early Monday for talks with European Union officials and NATO foreign ministers in Brussels.

Georgian officials said that Sunday night was the quietest night since the fighting broke out earlier this month. Russian troops and tanks have controlled key parts of Georgia for more than a week, including the country's main east-west highway. The conflict began when Georgian forces launched an attack on the breakaway region of South Ossetia. The overwhelming Russian military response has sent shockwaves through the west.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili struck a conciliatory note Monday saying that he would like to negotiate with Russian leaders so that the "definitive estrangement" of the two countries is prevented.