Railway Troops Leaving Abkhazia

SUKHUMI, Georgia — The last of 400 soldiers sent by Moscow to repair a railway in Georgia's breakaway region of Abkhazia began to pull out on Wednesday, ending a deployment that angered Tbilisi and its Western allies.

Loudspeakers played music from a brass band and children handed out flowers and Abkhaz flags to Russian soldiers at the opening ceremony of the 54-kilometer railway line.

"It's certain that all the personnel and all the equipment will be sent away from here," the Russian commander, Lieutenant-General Sergei Klimets, told reporters after handing out medals to the soldiers.

At the ceremony, Guram Gubaz, head of the Abkhaz railway department, said about 200 Russian soldiers had already left — a handful on Tuesday but most on Wednesday morning — and the remaining 200 soldiers would leave later Wednesday.

The Russian military has said over the last month that the soldiers would pull out of Abkhazia on July 29 and 30.

The railway line links Abkhazia's capital, Sukhumi, to the town of Ochamchira further south. It will carry stone from Ochamchira to Sochi to help construction work for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, Gubaz told Interfax.

Abkhazia is a lush, mountainous stretch of land that hugs the Black Sea. Rebels fought Georgia in a war after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union that only a 1994 United Nations ceasefire ended. Now Abkhazia and Georgia's other breakaway region of South Ossetia are at the center of a dispute between Russia, which supports the rebels, and Georgia supported by the United States.

Georgia has accused Russia, which has about 3,000 soldiers in the region acting as peacekeepers, of trying to annex Abkhazia, but Russia said the deployment of the unarmed railway soldiers was purely humanitarian aid.