Russian Troops Due to Leave Georgia

Georgian families who fled into the mountains to escape the Russian army saw the first aid convoy crawl up the road from the occupied city of Gori today, hungry for news and for food.

ABC News accompanied the convoy for the two hour drive into the hills as part of a sweep through the area where Russian troops claimed to be pulling back.

The convoy was organized by the World Food Program and crept out of Gori, the city that has turned into a virtual ghost town since Russian tanks and troops spilled out of South Ossetia last week and chased away the Georgian army.

Georgians from Gori are hiding out in the nearby mountains, too scared to return and eager for news. Some families followed a WFP convoy to its drop point at a makeshift distribution centrer. They were desperate for food.


One woman told ABC News that her family of 12 had fled to the mountains about a week ago. Half of them were sleeping outside on the grass, and today was the first time they received any aid or food.

The woman said they had been terrorized by the bombing of Gori and wanted to go home but were afraid of what might greet them if they left their mountain hideaway and the Russians were still in the city.

"We came here because of the bombs and we had to rely on the villagers for food," she said.

Inside Gori and along the road from the Georgian capital of Tbilisi, there were few signs of Russian troops pulling back despite an announcement by Russia's Col. Gen. Anatoly Nogovitsyn, "Today, according to the peace plan, the pullback of Russian peacekeepers and reinforcements has begun."

Nogovitsyn said Russian troops were leaving Gori, but in the city Russian armored personnel carriers could be seen crushing Georgian police cars and Russian troops were clearly in control.

Tensions were high and the few elderly Georgians left behind huddled around the town hall in the central square, which is overshadowed by a statue of Stalin, Gori's most famous son. They seethed with anger.

"How should I feel about the Russians? They killed my brother," one woman told ABC News between sobs. "The bombs killed him, and I have no food to feed his children. I need some help!"

Another man complained, "We have no food. We can't go to Tbilisi."

"I wouldn't say there's a humanitarian catastrophe, but there's an urgent need for primary products," Georgian national security council head Alexander Lomaia told journalists Monday on the outskirts of Gori.

Russian soldiers when approached by ABC News began shouting and threatened to confiscate cameras and equipment.

The one indication that some Russians may have been pulled back was a Georgian army barracks in Gori which was full of Russian soldiers on Sunday, but was nearly deserted today except for a lone tank standing guard.

The road from the capital to Gori was also firmly under control of the Russians and their allies.

ABC saw five checkpoints on the road manned by Russians as well as irregular forces in the uniform of South Ossetian militia. They stopped and searched every car on the road heading back to the capital. Other soldiers were camped in fields along the road.

"We're tired and bored," Russian soldiers at the checkpoints told ABC News. They also said they are eager to go home.

"Maybe we'll leave in 10 days" one soldier said.

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