Ukraine: Rebels and govt swap first prisoners under new deal

Dec 28, 2017, 00:37
Ukraine: Rebels and govt swap first prisoners under new deal

Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists have begun to exchange more than 300 prisoners in the war-torn east of the country, in the largest such swap since the insurgency broke out in 2014. The exchange of prisoners could affect 380 people in eastern rebel area of Ukraine. Officials said that 238 people held by the Ukrainian government had been handed over to the separatist-controlled regions of Luhansk and Dontesk.

Journalists, activists and bloggers who had been accused of spying or treason were among those released.

On Tuesday, Poroshenko met with the relatives of the hostages, saying: "Nothing is more important than to return our people home", according to a presidential statement.

"If underpinned by withdrawal of weapons and disengagement and made in good faith, this recommitment to the ceasefire holds the promise of a more peaceful new year for the people of eastern Ukraine", said Ertugrul Apakan, who heads the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine. The Kremlin has also continued to aid pro-Russia fighters in the eastern part of Ukraine, where ties to Russia are stronger.Nauert's statement also said Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed to continue to seek a diplomatic solution to the threat posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons program and to support negotiations toward a peaceful end to the ongoing civil war in Syria, where the USA and Russia have supported opposing sides.

In a phone call in November, Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, had urged the separatist leaders to exchange prisoners with the Ukrainian government.

One of first Ukrainian prisoners falls off bus during exchange of prisoners at a checkpoint near town of Gorlivka.

The conflict in Eastern Ukraine started in April 2014 after Russian Federation annexed Ukraine's Crimean penninsula. A ceasefire that was supposed to go into effect on 23 December was shattered within hours when a Ukrainian solider was killed.

OSCE observers have been monitoring the situation in Ukraine since 2014.

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