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U.S. Questions Russian Cease-Fire Compliance In Georgia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -- Questions about whether Russia has fully complied with cease-fire agreements in Georgia will be discussed at talks starting this week in Geneva, the U.S. State Department has said.

Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried will represent the United States at the talks starting on October 15 between Russia and Georgia, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

He said Tbilisi, a U.S. ally, still had "serious concerns" about the location of Russian forces and the overall numbers of Russian troops remaining in separatist regions of Georgia.

"There are still open questions," he said. "I would expect that the issues of geography that we've talked about as well as issues of overall numbers that we talked about are going to be front and center during those October 15 discussions," McCormack told reporters.

Months of skirmishes between separatists and Georgian troops erupted into war in August when Georgia sent troops and tanks to retake the pro-Russian rebel region of South Ossetia, which threw off Tbilisi's rule in 1991-92.

Russia responded with a powerful counterstrike that drove the Georgian Army out of South Ossetia.

Moscow's troops then pushed farther into Georgia, saying they needed to prevent more Georgian attacks.

Probably the most important outstanding issue, McCormack said, is that Moscow intends to keep 7,600 troops in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, another separatist area of Georgia -- more than twice the number that had been in those two areas before the war started.

But a cease-fire agreement that was signed in August said that Russia had to go back to its preconflict deployments, he said.

The Georgians also have questioned Russia's continued troop presence in the upper Kodori Gorge region of Abkhazia and the Akhalgori region of South Ossetia, McCormack said.