Russia blocks return of Georgia refugees


Russian troops deep inside Georgian territory are stopping thousands of refugees from returning to their homes, a Georgian official said on Saturday.

Russian troops were still manning checkpoints in Georgia and patrolling a Black Sea port even after Moscow pulled back much of the force it deployed to crush Georgia's attempt to take back two separatist provinces.

Moscow has since recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states, drawing a storm of criticism from Western governments. They say the Russian presence in Georgia's heartland amounts to a partial occupation.


The governor of Gori, a Georgian city occupied by Russian forces during the brief conflict, said Russian soldiers still occupied nearby Georgian villages and preventing residents from returning home.

"The Russians have checkpoints and we still cannot bring these people back home. The threat of paramilitary, irregulars, looting and robbing is still very high," Governor Lado Vardzelashvili said.

"Apparently the Russian military are not willing to prevent these kind of cases."


Vardzelashvili said 28,000 people from villages in the Gori region still could not go home. The number could not be independently verified but Human Rights Watch has urged Russia to investigate reports of burning and looting of Georgian villages by Ossetian militias.


Russia is failing in its obligations not only under the cease fire agreement, but to protect civilians in the area it is occupying. Its war against Georgia is still a debacle in the media battle space and Putin's assertions of US involvement don't pass the laugh test.


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