Russian forces withdraw from Georgian town: officials

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Russian forces on Monday withdrew from a town just outside Georgia's rebel South Ossetia region which they had occupied since the 2008 war between the two countries, officials said.

The European Union Monitoring Mission (EUMM) in Georgia and the country's interior ministry confirmed that Russian troops had dismantled a border checkpoint and withdrawn from Perevi, a town of 1,100 people, and moved inside the de facto borders of South Ossetia.

"Our patrols have been monitoring and we can confirm the withdrawal of the Russian border guard checkpoint in Perevi," EUMM spokeswoman Virginia Antonini told AFP.

"Everything went smoothly, there were absolutely no incidents," she added.

Interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said Georgian police had moved into Perevi following the withdrawal and would be setting up a Georgian checkpoint in the next few days.

"This is a very small but positive step. It's a step in the right direction," he said.

Russia announced during security talks in Geneva last week that it would be withdrawing its troops from Perevi in a move hailed by international mediators.

The town was the only location in Georgia that Russian troops continued to occupy outside of South Ossetia and Georgia's other rebel region, Abkhazia. Moscow recognised both regions as independent states after the war.

Russian forces poured into Georgia in August 2008 to repel a Georgian military attempt to retake Moscow-backed South Ossetia and occupied swathes of the country before mostly withdrawing inside the rebel regions under a European Union-brokered ceasefire.

© 2010 AFP

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