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Georgians are prevented from going home, U.N. says

August 31, 2008|From the Associated Press

TBILISI, GEORGIA — Russian troops remaining in Georgian territory are in effect preventing Georgians from returning to their homes, a U.N. representative said Saturday.

Melita Sunjic, spokeswoman for the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Georgia, said that although it was unclear whether Russian soldiers were actually preventing refugees from returning, warnings by the troops in effect block them.

"If they say, 'We can't guarantee your safety,' you don't go," she said.

About 2,000 refugees are at U.N. camps in Gori, and possibly thousands of others are in the region, hoping to return to villages that are in the so-called security zones that Russia has claimed for itself on Georgian territory.

The zones are near the border with separatist South Ossetia, the disputed region at the heart of the conflict. Fighting broke out Aug. 7 after Georgian forces launched a barrage on the South Ossetian capital, Tskhinvali, hoping to retake control of the province. Russian forces poured in, pushed the Georgians out and drove deep into Georgia proper.

Under a European Union-brokered cease-fire, both sides were to return their forces to prewar positions, but Russia has interpreted the agreement as allowing it to set up security zones and checkpoints.

Refugees passing through those zones say they are being terrorized, beaten and robbed by South Ossetians.

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