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Ukrainian authorities, militia leaders begin POW exchange

September 08, 2014, 20:30 UTC+3 KIEV

The number of persons to be exchanged remains unclear as the sides cited conflicting figures during a videoconference organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE)

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KIEV, September 08. /ITAR-TASS/. Kiev and the militias in eastern Ukraine began exchanging prisoners of war (POWs) on Monday as part of the peace plan approved by the Contact Group on the crisis settlement at its meeting in Minsk on September 5.

The number of persons to be exchanged remains unclear as the sides cited conflicting figures during a videoconference organised by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said during his trip to the region on Monday that 1,200 army troops had been handed over to Kiev since last Friday. “Another 863 persons, who are still in captivity, are to be freed before the end of the week,” he said.

Andrei Lysenko, the spokesman for the National Security and Defense Council, named a different figure. “Twenty Ukrainian citizens have been released and we are working to get another 100 freed,” he said.

Self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) Vice Premier Andrei Purgin told ITAR-TASS that the sides had agreed to exchange 30 POWs. “Thirty for thirty at first and then we will see,” he said.

Purgin admitted, however, that there were certain predicaments. “There are certain difficulties which I cannot disclose,” he said, adding that these issues would be addressed during future videoconferences, the nearest of which is to be held on Monday evening.

Purgin said that the detained militiamen were being brought to Kharkiv and expressed hope that “they will be exchanged by the hundreds”.

The exchange of POWs is one of the problems that can be solved first. “If we do not exchange all for all, then we are not worth a dime. European institutions will also be upset because this condition has been put forth for two or three months but never met,” Purgin said.

There are “about a thousand [POWs] on either side], he said, adding that the Ukrainian army was holding about 360 militiamen and some 600 were missing.

Purgin said reports that the next meeting of the Contact Group on Ukraine would take place in Minsk in 7-8 days was tentative as no meeting “has been planned yet”.

“It has been proposed to meet in a week’s time, but no concrete date was agreed,” he added.

On September 3, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed a peace plan for settling the conflict in eastern Ukraine. It calls for ending active offensive operations by armed forces, armed units and militia groups in southeast Ukraine in the Donetsk and Luhansk areas; withdrawing Ukrainian armed forces units to a distance that would make it impossible to fire on populated areas using artillery and all types of multiple launch rocket systems; allowing for full and objective international monitoring of compliance with the ceasefire and monitoring of the situation in the safe zone created by the ceasefire.

The plan also suggests excluding all use of military aircraft against civilians and populated areas in the conflict zone; organising the exchange of individuals detained by force on an ‘all for all’ basis without any preconditions; opening humanitarian corridors for refugees and for delivering humanitarian cargoes to towns and populated areas in Donbass - Donetsk and Luhansk regions; and making it possible for repair brigades to come to damaged settlements in the Donbass region in order to repair and rebuild social facilities and life-supporting infrastructure and help the region to prepare for the winter.

At its meeting in Minsk, Belarus, on Friday, the Contact Group on the resolution of the conflict in Ukraine adopted a peace plan and a ceasefire agreement.

Attending the meeting were officials from Kiev, representatives of the embattled south-eastern regions of Ukraine, officials from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and Russia.

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