“We are seeing the pullback of Russian troops” from Gori, Georgian Security Council head Alexander Lomaia said. Gori is a key crossroads in central Georgia.
Russian forces also have left Igoeti, their closest position to Georgian capital, and a column of tanks trucks hauling artillery was moving away from the Senaki military base and toward the border of Georgia’s breakaway Abkhazia region.
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and other officials have said Russian forces would pull back to separatist regions and surrounding security zones by day’s end Friday, but there were still signs of preparations for a continued Russian military presence in other areas of Georgia.
“It’s such a relief,” a Georgian man told Reuters, as a convoy of 10 armored personnel carriers rumbled past him on its way to South Ossetia and eventually the Russian border.
“I was waiting for this day and finally I see the Russians leaving my home town,” he said. “I’m so happy.”
Russia sent its forces into Georgia after Georgia launched artillery on the separatist, pro-Russian province of South Ossetia on Aug. 7. Fighting also has flared in a second Georgian breakaway region, Abkhazia.
A cease-fire signed by the presidents of Russia and Georgia calls for Russian forces to pull back to the positions they held before Aug. 7. The cease-fire allows Russia to maintain troops in a zone extending about four miles into Georgia along the South Ossetian border.
Meanwhile, the Georgian government is seeking aid to repair and develop infrastructure after its conflict this month with Russia, the head of USAID said Friday.
“They have a proposal for what they call a Phoenix Fund, which is somewhere between $1 billion and $2 billion,” Henrietta Fore, the administrator of USAID, told reporters.
“That’s really reconstruction, it’s for infrastructure. It’s not just because of hostilities. It’s for development,” she said, while returning from a visit to Georgia to assess the government’s needs after the conflict.
The United States has carried out 20 aid flights to Georgia since Aug. 19. The United Nations estimates 158,000 people have fled their homes.