Prisoner exchange goes ahead in Ukraine despite blame game

Moscow: The Ukrainian government and pro-Russian separatists went ahead with the prisoner exchange Friday, despite having called off a third round of peace talks set to take place in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

Kiev exchanged 222 militia members of the Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) for 150 government troops prisoner held by the separatists since fighting began in May, Russia's Interfax news agency reported.

The exchange took place on neutral territory in the presence of a delegate of the Ukrainian government, Viktor Medvedchuk, and DPR defense minister, Vladimir Kononov, as well as representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

A similar exchange was set to take place Saturday with the People's Republic of Lugansk, another pro-Russian state carved out of Ukrainian territory adjecent to Donetsk, according to TASS news agency.

The deal under which unequal number of prisoners were returned to their respective sides was the only positive outcome of the meeting held in Minsk Wednesday between the Kiev authorities and the Russia-backed rebels.

Both sides decided to cancel the meeting set for Friday amid a flurry or mutual recriminations. They accused each other of having violated the latest ceasefire accord they signed Dec 9.

"Kiev violated the cease fire and has resumed heavy artillery shelling of the People's Republic of Donetsk. There's no doubt we have entered a new stage of the conflict," one member of the separatist delegation told Interfax.

The insurgents are demanding that Kiev lift the economic blockade it has imposed on zones under rebel control and implement a special staus that would give them control over their affairs.

As far as Kiev is concerned, the main issue is allowing international organisations to supervise the peace accords both sides signed in September and for regaining control over the part of the Ukraine-Russian border under the separatists' control.

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