Ukraine, rebels exchange prisoners in peace deal

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BY PETER LEONARD

DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) -- 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 hours outside the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk under the watch of international observers.

President Petro Poroshenko said 36 Ukrainian servicemen were released after negotiations. He said a further 21 soldiers were freed the day before.

Ukrainian forces handed over 31 pro-Russian rebels detained over the course of the five-month conflict.

A cease-fire between separatists and the Ukrainian military took effect last Friday but has already been serially violated. Shortly after the prisoner exchange, a volley of rocket fire was heard from central Donetsk.

The group of Ukrainian servicemen was driven away from the local security services headquarters around 1:30 a.m. local time and taken to a location several kilometers north of the city. At the spot, they were met by Ukrainian military officials, some of whom were armed.

The two sets of captives were brought out wearing handcuffs, which were removed as they were handed over. Prisoners were split up into small groups for the exchange.

Hundreds of prisoners are believed to be held by both sides, although no firm figure has been provided by either.

One representative apiece from the separatist rebels and the Ukrainian government checked people being freed against a list and crossed out names as they were being released.

"There is an ongoing process of talks. We are meeting each other's demands and fulfilling our promises," said Yuriy Tandit, who is serving as a negotiator for the government.

Some of those in the separatists rebel ranks being released were Russian citizens.

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

"They shot at our ambulance. There were five of us, including two women. We were taken to custody in Kramatorsk at the antiterrorist operation base at the airport," Veridya said. "I was beaten and have two broken ribs."

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