Georgians: Russian Troops Remain To Show Power Russia says it's starting to pull troops from Georgia, but there is little evidence so far of any significant withdrawal. Many Georgians believe Russia's occupation is aimed at destroying the country's infrastructure.
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Georgians: Russian Troops Remain To Show Power

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Georgians: Russian Troops Remain To Show Power

Georgians: Russian Troops Remain To Show Power

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.

Russia claims it is starting to pull troops out of Georgia, but there has been no significant evidence of a withdrawal. And in the city of Poti, Russians took about 20 Georgian soldiers prisoner. Much of the country remains under occupation. And there are signs that human rights abuses against ethnic Georgians are increasing in the region of South Ossetia.

NPR's Gregory Feifer was there today, and in the Georgian city of Gori.

Unidentified Man: (Russian Spoken)

GREGORY FEIFER: On a dusty, sun-baked hill outside Gori, a Russian officer standing by a row of 15 idling armored personnel carriers and tank commands his soldiers to head toward Russia.

(Soundbite of running vehicle)

The men clamber onto their vehicles then the column rumbles down toward a road, kicking up huge clouds of dust.

Colonel Igor Konoshenko says they're among the first forces to leave Georgia as part of Russia's pullout.

Colonel IGOR KONOSHENKO (Russian Ground Forces): (Russian Spoken)

FEIFER: We received the order to pull out yesterday, he said. Across Georgia, support troops are being moved out. This was an exercise for the international media meant to give evidence that Russia is finally living up to its promise to pull its military out of Georgia after its attack over the breakaway Georgian region South Ossetia.

But it's far from clear if today's exercise is anything more than a public relations stunt. Colonel Konoshenko gives no indication of how long the pullout will take. In the countryside around Gori, there's no sign of any troop movements. Roads are almost empty, and soldiers in several encampments even appear to be hunkering down to stay.

(Soundbite of people talking)

FEIFER: In central Gori, hungry residents line up for handouts of bread. Many here say they don't believe the Russians occupying their ghost town of a city will be leaving any time soon.

Georgi Benashvili says by refusing to honor its promises, Moscow is showing Georgia and the rest of the world it can do whatever it pleases.

Mr. GEORGI BENASHVILI (Resident): (Speaking foreign language)

FEIFER: They just want to show their power, he says, that's all. Many believe Russia's humiliating occupation of Georgia is aimed at destroying the country's infrastructure. There are reports of large scale looting by Russian troops in the brawn swath of the country they control. And according to the vague language of Russia's cease-fire with Georgia, Moscow may be entitled to keep its troops in a buffer zone on Georgian territory after its forces pull out.

A short distance away, in the South Ossetian capital Tskhinvali, the Russians are acting quickly to start a major rebuilding effort.

Vladimir Ivanov, a member of the government engineer corps, says this ruined city will soon be made livable for returning refugees.

Mr. VLADIMIR IVANOV (Member, Georgian government engineer corps): (Georgian Spoken)

FEIFER: We're rebuilding hospitals, schools and telephone lines, he says. This place will look very different in a matter of weeks. Many believe Russia's reconstruction here, together with the massive presence of Russian troops in South Ossetia, is meant to signal this impoverished region will remain firmly under Moscow's control.

Driving just outside Tskhinvali, a much more ominous form of change is visible. The houses of ethnic Georgians who fled the fighting here are being burned down. Flames shoot out of the windows of village houses and trails of smoke dot the countryside. Bulldozers are knocking down what's left, apparently to ensure that those Georgians who fled can never return.

Tskhinvali resident Boris Kelesayev says that's exactly what the South Ossetians want.

Mr. BORIS KELESAYEV: (Russian Spoken)

FEIFER: What the Russians are doing here should have been done long ago, he says. They're just carrying out their mission. We don't want to have anything to do with the Georgians. We want to be part of Russia.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Tskhinvali, South Ossetia.

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