Russians, Georgians Swap Prisoners

IGOETI, Georgia — Russian and Georgian forces exchanged prisoners on a highway in central Georgia on Tuesday in a gesture of goodwill despite continued tension over Russia's promised withdrawal.

The 15-minute handover took place 45 kilometers west of Tbilisi, in the village of Igoeti, where Russian tanks and armored vehicles were dug in on the hillside and Georgian police in white pick-ups were manning a checkpoint.

The village, which was the closest Russian forces advanced toward the capital, lies on Georgia's only significant east-west highway.

The prisoner exchange began as two Russian military helicopters landed in the village and Russian soldiers escorted several uniformed, unarmed men in single file to the center of the road. Two people on stretchers were also taken to Georgian officials.

Georgia said it handed over five Russian servicemen in exchange for 15 Georgians, including two civilians. Officials shook hands and signed a prisoner-exchange at a table set up on the road.

"The process went smoothly. It was mediated by the French ambassador," said Georgian National Security Council secretary Kakha Lomaia.

He said Tbilisi believed that Russia was still holding two Georgian soldiers, captured during fighting for control of Tskhinvali, the capital of Georgia's breakaway South Ossetia region.

"Everything went according to the agreement," said Major-General Vyacheslav Borisov, commander of Russian forces in the region. "We agreed on future exchanges if there are other prisoners."

AP, Reuters