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Russia Begins Withdrawing Forces Around South Ossetia

Russian forces have begun pulling back from a self-declared buffer zone outside the Georgian breakaway region of South Ossetia, in a withdrawal Russian authorities say will be completed Wednesday.

The pullback from territory around South Ossetia and another pro-Russian breakaway region, Abkhazia, is a key element of a peace deal brokered by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Under the deal, Russia is to withdraw from the zones by Friday.

European Union monitors say Russian military trucks and armor began withdrawing to positions inside South Ossetia early Wednesday. Moscow has recognized both territories as independent states and says it plans to keep more than 7,000 troops inside the regions, despite Western protests.

In France, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev confirmed the Russian pullback will be completed by midnight. He also described the European Union role in the Georgian crisis as "pragmatic and responsible."

EU officials in August protested the Russian incursion, but decided against imposing sanctions on Moscow.

Mr. Medvedev's comments came at a security conference chaired by French President Sarkozy. France holds the rotating EU presidency. The French and Russian leaders were to hold informal talks on the sidelines of the conference.

Russian forces swept into Georgia August 7, after Georgia launched military strikes against separatists in South Ossetia.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.