Ukraine, Pro-Russian Rebels Exchange 67 Prisoners as Part of Cease-fire

Pro-Russian rebel leader from eastern Ukraine Andrei Purgin smiles during a press conference in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Government and rebel forces early Friday exchanged dozens of prisoners captured during fighting in Ukraine, as part of a cease-fire agreement sealed earlier this month. The transfer took place in the dark outside the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk under the watch of international observers. (PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Pro-Russian rebel leader from eastern Ukraine Andrei Purgin smiles during a press conference in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Sept. 12, 2014. Government and rebel forces early Friday exchanged dozens of prisoners captured during fighting in Ukraine, as part of a cease-fire agreement sealed earlier this month. The transfer took place in the dark outside the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk under the watch of international observers. (PHOTO CREDIT: AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

In the dead of night, Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed rebel forces on Friday exchanged 67 prisoners who had been captured during fighting in eastern Ukraine, part of a cease-fire deal that has struggled to succeed.

The transfer took place in the dark outside of the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk under the watch of international observers.

Thirty-six Ukrainian servicemen were released after negotiations, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said. Ukrainian forces handed over 31 pro-Russian rebels detained over the five-month conflict, some of them Russian citizens.

The cease-fire took effect a week ago but has been routinely violated. Shortly after the prisoner exchange, a volley of rocket fire was heard in Donetsk.

The Ukrainian servicemen were driven away from local rebel headquarters around 1:30 a.m. and taken several miles north of Donetsk, where they were met by Ukrainian military officials.

The two sets of captives were brought out wearing handcuffs, which were removed as they were handed over. One representative from each side checked each prisoner against a list and crossed out their name as they were freed.

“There is an ongoing process of talks. We are meeting each other’s demands and fulfilling our promises,” said Yuriy Tandit, a negotiator for the government.

Darya Morozova, who is overseeing the prisoner exchange for the separatists, said she estimates around 1,200 rebels and their supporters are being detained by Ukrainian authorities. She said the rebels were holding several hundred Ukrainian troops, but when asked for an exact figure, she would only say it was “up to 1,000” people.

Morozova claimed the rebel prisoners had been poorly treated and some had not been fed for around two weeks. Another transfer of prisoners is expected in the next three days, she said.

Some of the separatists freed Friday were Russian citizens.

One of them, Simon Veridya from Moscow, said he was captured in the town of Kramatorsk, which was retaken by government forces in July.

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SOURCE: The Associated Press
Peter Leonard

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