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Tour in Georgia limits what journalists see

Russian Col. Igor Konoshenko looked at the building burned by looters – who'd entered the town earlier this month after Russian troops drove through – and quickly tried to shift reporters' attention elsewhere.

“The other buildings are fine, look at them,” he said, waving his hand assertively.

Such redirection was typical of a seven-and-a-half-hour tour that the Russians led Sunday for reporters in the occupied countryside of Georgia.

By day's end, the Russians had made it obvious they weren't interested in revealing what transpired after their forces pushed the Georgian military out of the breakaway province of South Ossetia and marched on to the center of the country.

Russia has sought to closely manage press movement across South Ossetia and outlying villages, especially reporters operating out of Georgia's capital, Tbilisi. Russian soldiers have routinely turned back journalists seeking to enter the areas.

Even Sunday, when reporters were invited on a tour by the Council of Europe's human rights commissioner, Thomas Hammarberg, Russian officials tried hard to limit access, demanding that reporters stay with the group.

“The thing is that foreign correspondents we take from Tbilisi do not move around,” said Alexander Machevsky, an escort who said he worked for the press service of Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. “No foreign correspondents have been shot here, and we would like to keep it that way.”

In Karaleti, Russian soldiers watched warily as locals came up to reporters and explained how the building was burned.

“The Ossetians did this,” said Manana Chidliashvili, whose son used to live in one of the burned-out apartments. “I'm afraid of the Russian soldiers .… If they didn't let the Ossetians in to destroy everything, who did?”

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