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German Chancellor Says Russia Delaying Withdrawal From Georgia

By Stefan Bos

Zestaponi, Georgia

18 August 2008

German Chancellor Angela Merkel says Russia has been delaying the withdrawal of its troops from Georgia. Speaking after talks with Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, she also spoke about the country's prospects for membership in the NATO alliance. Stefan Bos reports from the central Georgian town of Zestaponi.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in the capital Tblisi to discuss the implementation of a peace plan to end what Georgian authorities view as Russia's first foreign invasion since the end of the Cold War.

Ms. Merkel told reporters she was concerned about Russia's apparent refusal to withdraw troops quickly.

The German leader also stressed that Georgia can become a member of the NATO alliance, despite Russian opposition to the plan.

Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili welcomed the comment. He also said it was crucial that the international community supervises the withdrawal of Russian troops from his country.

"We need verification of withdrawal and cease-fire, preferably by EU and OSCE monitors, we need humanitarian aid reaching everybody, and then in the end we need peacekeepers taking over conflict areas and doing genuine post-conflict resolution in the interest of all ethnic groups," said Mr. Saakashvili.

Zestaponi is coping with a refugee crisis. Refugees from the previous war in Abkhazia in the 1990's have to share space in a rundown Soviet-era building with new arrivals from flashpoints such as Gori. There has been at least one suicide here, as refugees don't see any future.

Speaking through an interpreter, 36-year old Lali Kaladze told VOA News that she fled Russian bombardments on her village of Tortiza, just outside Gori, in which, she claims, at least five people were killed and several others injured.

"I came here with two children I don't know where is my husband and my father in law. I am very nervous I lost them somewhere on the way," she said. "I am here with two children. I don't know what to do next. I saw my 15-year old relative laying on the street, I couldn't burry him."

Peace for her is only the first step to rebuild her shattered life.



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