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Europe

Russia Pulls Out From Georgia Buffer Zones

Russia has withdrawn troops from all checkpoints inside Georgia around the breakaway regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Georgian and Russian officials said Wednesday.

A column of Russian troops

Russian troops will maintain a strong presence in Georgia's two rebel regions

Russian forces were bulldozing a camp at a key checkpoint outside South Ossetia and withdrawing as European Union monitors followed.

"Troops from five (of six) posts are already in South Ossetia, and the last column with peacekeepers from the sixth observation post is on its way to Tskhinvali," Marat Kulakhmetov, commander of Russian peacekeeping forces, was quoted by news agency Interfax as saying in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said all of Russia's forces would quit the security zones extending into Georgia from its rebel regions by midnight Wednesday.

Medvedev shows regard for EU role

Medvedev hailed the role of EU observers in the post conflict zone, speaking at a summit in the French town of Evian.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev

The Russian President has offered his thanks to the EU for its role in the Georgia crisis

"I want to stress the constructive role of the European Union in finding a peaceful option for overcoming the Caucasus crisis," he said.

"When other forces in the world were reluctant or incapable of doing this, it was in the European Union that we found a ... responsible and pragmatic partner."

Moscow has until Friday under an EU-brokered ceasefire to withdraw from the Georgian checkpoints occupied since its brief but violent war with the post-Soviet republic in August.

Russia honored its word: Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy paid tribute to the Russian president for keeping his word in promising to pull troops out of the Georgia Proper "buffer zones."

Sarkozy acknowledged "the withdrawal confirmed by President Medvedev, who in doing so has kept his word," in a speech to a conference in eastern France, where he was to hold talks with Medvedev.

"Both sides must now refrain from any provocation on the ground," Sarkozy added.

The Russian withdrawal precedes a peace conference set for Oct. 15 in Geneva, where the broader issue of Georgia's long-term security is to be debated.

The ceasefire

French President Nicolas Sarkozy

French President Nicolas Sarkozy says Russia lived up to its word by withdrawing

France, which currently chairs the EU's six-month rotating presidency, brokered a peace agreement in Moscow on Tuesday, Aug. 12 to end the fierce six-day conflict between Russia and Georgia in the two breakaway Georgian provinces.

Under the terms of the agreement, Moscow was to withdraw most of its forces but leave a military presence in the two breakaway zones. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili has also accepted Sarkozy's plan.

Russia insists it will keep nearly 4,000 troops in each of the separatist zones, a plan which the US, EU and NATO have said contravenes the French-brokered ceasefire.

Russian president chastises US

As his country's troops rolled out of Georgia Proper, Medvedev said Europe's security system, which was still based around NATO and the US, needed an overhaul, as highlighted by Russia's war with Georgia.

He proposed a new European security pact that would negate the possibility of any one country having a monopoly on the safety of the continent.

"A desire by the United States to consolidate its global domination led to it missing a historical chance ... to build a truly democratic world order," Medvedev said.

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