Hundreds of Russian troops have moved into a disputed Georgian village near the rebel region of South Ossetia after Russian forces previously appeared to be pulling out, Georgian police said on Saturday.
European Union ceasefire monitors confirmed the Russian soldiers had entered the village of Perevi and called for their immediate withdrawal.
Interior ministry spokesman Shota Utiashvili said from 500 to 600 Russian soldiers moved into Perevi early Saturday in what he described as a "military operation" involving paratroopers, helicopters and armoured vehicles. (AFP)
Georgia and EU monitors had announced Friday that Russian forces were withdrawing from Perevi, a mainly ethnic Georgian village of about 1,100 people on the western border of South Ossetia, which had been under Russian control since a five-day war in August.
Georgian police had moved into the village on Friday after Russian forces withdrew. About 20 Russian soldiers returned late Friday and Georgian police were forced out when the large contingent of troops arrived, Utiashvili said.
"They presented Georgian police with an ultimatum: get out or we will shoot," he said.
He said a delegation of European ambassadors visiting the area was prevented from entering the village.
The 225-member EU Monitoring Mission (EUMM) said in a statement: "Russian troops have reoccupied the Perevi checkpoint in Georgia… and even deployed a considerable number of troops in and around the village of Perevi."
The mission said this was "incompatible with the provisions" of an EU-brokered ceasefire and called on the Russian government "to withdraw its units from the Perevi checkpoint and the Perevi village without delay".
It also criticised Russian forces for preventing the European delegation from visiting the village, saying this was "unacceptable under all relevant instruments of international law".
Georgia has accused Russia of violating the ceasefire agreement by refusing to withdraw from Perevi and other positions that had been under Tbilisi’s control before the war.
Georgia has also called for Russia to withdraw from the Akhalgori district in South Ossetia and the Kodori Gorge in Georgia’s other separatist region, Abkhazia. Both areas were under Tbilisi’s control prior to the conflict.
Russian forces moved deep into Georgia in August to repel a Georgian military attempt to retake South Ossetia, which had received extensive backing from Moscow since breaking away from Tbilisi’s control in the early 1990s.
They later withdrew to within South Ossetia and Abkhazia, which Moscow recognised as independent states.