Smoke from burning houses is seen as a Russian armored vehicle passes by the village of Kikhva, South Ossetia, on Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008. (AP / Dmitry Lovetsky)

Latest news report suggested that Russian troops have begun handing over control of the area around the town of Gori to Georgian security forces.

But a Russian general in the area said Moscow’s troops would remain nearby for several days, apparently to remove weaponry and unexploded ordnance.

Overnight the US secretary of state urged Moscow to meet its own pledge to pull troops out of Georgia altogether.

Georgia launched an attack on the rebel region of South Ossetia from Gori and the town has remained a key flashpoint.

Russian troops headed towards the town after they moved against Georgian forces in South Ossetia, sparking a rapid retreat by Georgian forces and civilians on Monday.

Gori has also come under air attack, with reports of Russian planes bombing the town after Moscow declared an end to its military operation on Tuesday.

And Russia’s continued deployment of troops in Gori raised concerns that the Kremlin would not make a quick withdrawal from Georgian territory, despite agreeing to a European peace plan.

Safety ‘improved’

The BBC’s Gabriel Gatehouse, inside Gori, says Moscow insists that the purpose of its continuing presence in Georgia proper is to hand over security to the Georgian police and to remove abandoned weapons and ammunition.

Local residents reported feeling safe and secure on Wednesday night, our correspondent says, as the presence of Russian troops in Gori kept looters off the streets.

The Russian general co-ordinating the return of Georgian police and security forces to Gori urged residents – many of whom left town as the Georgian army retreated on Monday – to return to their homes and re-open their shops, our correspondent adds.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, said on Wednesday night Russia faced international “isolation” if it refused to respect the truce.

“We expect all Russian forces that entered Georgia in recent days to withdraw from that country,” she said.

There was, she said, a “very strong, growing sense that Russia is not behaving like the kind of international partner that it has said that it wants to be”.