Page last updated at 17:33 GMT, Tuesday, 19 August 2008 18:33 UK

Prisoner swap at Russian checkpoint


BBC's Helen Fawkes at Russian checkpoint where prisoner swap took place

The BBC's Helen Fawkes reports from a Russian checkpoint in the village of Igoeti, Georgia, where Russia exchanged 15 Georgian prisoners for five of its own troops.

Two Russian helicopters swooped overhead. A military lorry was used to block the road and then smoke filled the air. The Russian military had let off some kind of smoke bomb.

This was the dramatic start of the prisoner exchange.

Both sets of men who had been captured during the fighting were taken to the Russian checkpoint. They had arrived in a convoy of vehicles.

Georgian officials told us that two of the Russian prisoners were pilots who had been shot down by Georgian forces about two weeks ago. Fifteen Georgian soldiers were swapped for five Russian troops. I watched as two of the men on stretchers were taken to the waiting helicopters.

This was a gesture of goodwill, but Russia remains firmly in charge here.

Russian soldiers are still controlling this area, 20 miles (30km) from the Georgian capital, Tbilisi. They won't say when they are going, but just say they will leave when they get orders to withdraw. One of the solders asked us to bring him some fried fish if we are planning on coming back to this checkpoint tomorrow.

Georgians are angry that Russian troops are still in their country, a day after Moscow said it was withdrawing. Several hundred protesters marched to the Russian checkpoint. They waved Georgian flags and chanted: "Russia go home".

"We are protesting and we are crying and we are shouting for Russia to go," said Rusuden Dzhikiaya, a protester from Tbilisi State University. "It's our country and we are an independent country," she said.

One of the banners said: "Stop Russian aggression." This surprised one of the soldiers. "They say we are aggressors," he told us. "We are not aggressors, we are just standing here," he said.

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