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Russian President Signs Georgia Peace Plan

Medvedev has joined the leaders of Abkhaz and South Ossetia (foreground) in signing off on the cease-fire
Medvedev has joined the leaders of Abkhaz and South Ossetia (foreground) in signing off on the cease-fire

Russia has signed a cease-fire agreement that calls for Russian forces to withdraw to the positions they held before hostilities with Georgia broke out last week. Moscow says the pullout will begin once additional security arrangements are put in place, without setting a time line.

The Kremlin announced on August 16 that President Dmitry Medvedev had signed the European Union-mediated plan to defuse the crisis in Georgia. But later in the day, complications appeared when Russia's foreign minister said the document signed by the Georgian president was missing a key introductory part.

The news came as Tbilisi and Moscow traded accusations over the destruction of a railway bridge on a key east-west line in Georgia proper. As a consequence, Azerbaijan announced it was temporarily halting oil shipments through Georgia.

In addition to calling for a pullback, the cease-fire deal includes a plan to begin international talks about the future status of South Ossetia and another breakaway region, Abkhazia.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili and the leaders of the two separatist regions at the heart of this month's military conflict have already signed the EU-brokered document.

Missing Text?

Speaking to reporters in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced that there were problems with the agreement signed by Georgia's leader on August 15.

"The document that was signed yesterday by Mikheil Saakashvili differs from the document that was agreed by Presidents Medvedev and Sarkozy in Moscow," Lavrov said. "So this issue has to be clarified through diplomatic channels."

Lavrov said Russian troops will remain in Georgia "as long as needed" before withdrawing in line with the peace deal.

He said the withdrawal was contingent on additional security measures, which he did not detail.

"As concerns the withdrawal Russian military units," Lavrov said, "I have already stated that this withdrawal will take place when extra security measures have been put into place on the ground along the positions of the peacekeeping contingent."

Lavrov blamed the Georgian side for "creating problems" on the ground.

Call For Withdrawal

In his weekly Saturday radio address, U.S. President George W. Bush said Russia's military action was "completely unacceptable to the free nations of the world."

"We insist that Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity be respected," he said. "And Moscow must honor its pledge to withdraw its invading forces from all Georgian territory."

Bush also urged Russia to take action to repair its damaged relations with the United States and other nations.

Later at a press conference, Bush said that the United Nations has recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as being part of Georgia, and the "international community has repeatedly made clear that they will remain so."

On the ground in Georgia, the government on August 16 accused Russian troops of blowing up a key railway bridge in Kaspi, about 45 kilometers west of Tbilisi, cutting the country's main east-west rail link.

Reports say Russian soldiers and military hardware remain in place in Gori, near the border with South Ossetia, the Black Sea port of Poti, and further inland at Senaki. Russian troops also moved some tanks and troops closer to Tbilisi.

Tens of thousands of people have reportedly been displaced since the fighting began. Internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Tbilisi told RFE/RL's Georgian Service that they lack basic needs.

"[We need] bedding, mattresses, plates, glasses," said one woman, who is living with relatives.

"We are 24 people, living in a small room. We need food. Children have not eaten bread for five days," said another.

with wire reports

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