Russia Says Some 18,000 Refugees Return to S. Ossetia

Almost 18,000 refugees have returned to South Ossetia from Russia over the last nine days, RIA-Novosti quoted Russia's emergencies ministry as saying on Thursday.

Almost 18,000 refugees have returned to S. Ossetia.

"A total of 17,912 people returned in the period August 12-20," the ministry said in a statement.

According to the ministry's data, 38,207 people fled South Ossetia across the Russian border after Tbilisi launched a massive ground and air offensive to retake the breakaway republic on August 8.

Georgian troops, which Russia says targeted not only the South Ossetian military, but also civilians and Russian peacekeepers deployed in the region since a conflict in the 1990s, fell back after Russia sent in tanks and thousands of servicemen into the area. Russian forces then moved into parts of Georgia proper.

Russia granted citizenship to residents of South Ossetia at the start of the decade, and Moscow said it had no choice but to launch a counter operation to ensure the safety of its citizens. Russia called an end to its operation to "force Georgia to peace" on August 12.

Authorities in South Ossetia said on Wednesday that 1,492 of the province's residents were killed in Georgia's military offensive.

Russia has so far, however, identified 133 residents of South Ossetia as having been killed in the attack. The state investigation committee said on Thursday that it was still impossible to give a final figure however as many bodies were buried in makeshift graves.

On August 18, Russia announced it was pulling back its troops to positions prior to the conflict in line with a peace plan developed with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

South Ossetia has received more than 130 tons of humanitarian aid from former Soviet states, the emergencies ministry said.

Work is underway to reconstruct the heavily devastated Tskhinvali, the capital of South of Ossetia. The water supply to the town has almost entirely been restored.

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