Saturday, August 23, 2008

Russia Withdraws, Georgia Prepares for Refugee Flood

As Russian forces withdraw, finally, behind the buffer zone back into South Ossetia, Georgia prepares for a new crisis: the influx of thousands of refugees who had fled the area during the conflict returning to try and rebuild their lives after leaving.
Despite skepticism and in spite of still maintaining a presence in several key Georgian locations, Russian forces have finally begun to withdraw into territory in South Ossetia, as they said they would do by yesterday. This creates a new situation for Georgian authorities, that of masses of people displaced by fighting who now wish to return to their homes and attempt to resume their lives.

Georgia has deployed a “massive police presence” in and around the city of Gori to help guarantee security for returning residents in the wake of the Russian withdrawal on Friday evening, said Shota Utiashvili, a high-ranking Interior Ministry official.

At dusk on Friday, columns of armored personnel carriers and troop transports ferried most of the Russian forces in Georgia back to Kremlin-defined security zones in Abkhazia, a separatist enclave in Georgia’s west, and South Ossetia, the breakaway region where the war broke out two weeks ago.

On Saturday, Russian armored columns continued to flow over the Inguri River from the Georgian city of Zugdidi into Abkhazia, a local police spokesman said. The Russians have also left the Georgian military base in Senaki, but only after confiscating almost everything of value, including televisions, refrigerators and even toilets, according to local residents who have watched the steady stream of Russian trucks moving in and out of the base for more than a week.

Russian troops still maintain checkpoints and are entrenched in the Georgian cities of Poti, a port city on the Black Sea, and have several locations within Georgian territory along the border area of South Ossetia. Russia's Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, deputy chief of the Russian military’s general staff, stated that the Russians would not "sit behind the fence and watch as they drive around in Hummers,” a reference to captured United States Marine Corps captured by Russian forces last week. Georgia and Western allies maintain that the Russians are in violation of earlier agreements and demand a Russian return to their prewar positions. Russia, meanwhile, intends to announce it's recognition of two separatist enclaves, which creates an even more murky diplomatic and political situation in the region.

Currently some 112,000 refugees have been registered by the Georgian government, with estimates being that there are possibly closer to 200,000 in total. Refugees who are moving back into areas still held by Russian forces are cautiously optimistic that the conflict has begun to come to an end. Housing for refugees has not been an easy task to undertake. Many refugees have been forced to seek housing in dilapidated buildings that have been far from capable of handling the large numbers of people flooding into them; in one case, a shelter housing around 1,700 refugees shared a single, rigged up water faucet and two toilets.

As Russia withdraws, even to the point that they have and are withdrawing, the main concern now for the people of the nation of Georgia is certain: for Georgians to return to any semblence of their former lives is going to be a slow, hard process. Especially if they're keeping a watch out for bears wandering the countryside.

Once and Always, an American Fighting Man


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