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Russian Military Retakes Georgia Border Village


TBILISI (Reuters) -- Russian troops have returned to a disputed Georgian village they vacated a day earlier near breakaway South Ossetia, pushing back Georgian security forces and drawing criticism from European Union cease-fire monitors.

Georgian police said between 500 and 600 Russian soldiers were in the village of Perevi, close to the de facto border with South Ossetia.

Russian forces pulled back in October from a buffer zone adjacent to South Ossetia after a five-day war in August, but kept soldiers in Perevi, which sits on the Georgian side of the de facto border.

The troops pulled out of the village on December 12. Georgian police moved in behind them, but the Russians were back by nightfall. Television pictures showed Russian soldiers unloading sandbags from a truck.

The EU monitors said they had verified that "Russian troops have reoccupied the Perevi checkpoint, near the administrative boundary line of South Ossetia, and even deployed a considerable number of troops in and around the village of Perevi."

They said in a statement that Russian troops had prevented European ambassadors from visiting the area.

"EUMM (European Union Monitoring Mission) calls on the Russian government to withdraw its units from the Perevi checkpoint and the Perevi village without delay," it said.

'Turning A Blind Eye'

South Ossetia, recognized by Russia after the war as an independent state with Russian military protection, accused Georgia of violating the cease-fire by deploying special forces to the boundary.

"About 60 special forces soldiers were deployed to the village of Perevi directly on the border with South Ossetia," Interfax news agency quoted a South Ossetian Defense Ministry official as saying. "EU monitors are turning a blind eye."

Georgian Interior Ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said Russian troops had "put on a show" with helicopters, armored vehicles, and paratroopers. Georgian police withdrew.

"The Russians kicked the police out of Perevi this morning," he said.

South Ossetia claims the village as its own. But the EU monitors say it clearly lies outside the region's boundary.

The monitors claimed credit on December 12 for the Russian withdrawal, saying it followed EU discussions with the Russian Foreign Ministry and military.

South Ossetia and a second breakaway Georgian region, Abkhazia, threw off Tbilisi's rule in wars in the early 1990s.

Russia said it intervened in Georgia to save civilians from a Georgian military bid to retake South Ossetia after months of skirmishes and Georgian allegations of Russian provocation. The West condemned Moscow's response as disproportionate.