Preparations for Russia-Ukraine prisoner exchange underway

A Ukrainian serviceman who was made prisoner react during a prisoner exchange between Ukraine and pro-Russia rebels on December 27, 2018. (File/AFP)
Updated 07 September 2019

Preparations for Russia-Ukraine prisoner exchange underway

  • AFP correspondents at the scene saw two buses with tinted windows leaving the high-security prison in Moscow under a police convoy
  • On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said for the first time the “large-scale” prisoner exchange with Ukraine was being finalized

MOSCOW: A long-awaited exchange of prisoners between Moscow and Kiev has begun, Russian state television reported on Saturday, broadcasting footage of buses leaving a jail in the capital.

“Buses have left the Lefortovo jail within the framework of preparations for a prisoner exchange,” the Rossiya 24 rolling news channel said.

AFP correspondents at the scene saw two buses with tinted windows leaving the high-security prison in Moscow under a police convoy.
 




A police convoy escort two buses with tinted windows leaving the high-security prison of Lefortovo on September 7, 2019 in Moscow. (File/AFP)

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said for the first time the “large-scale” prisoner exchange with Ukraine was being finalized.

The Russian leader said the swap would be “a huge step toward normalizing relations” following comedian Volodymyr Zelensky’s rise to power in Kiev in May.

The Russian side found it difficult to agree to the names Ukraine had put forward for the swap, Putin added.

Last week media reports said a prisoner exchange between the two countries was imminent and some Ukrainian prisoners had been moved to Moscow from their jails. The apparent preparations then stalled.

It is unclear who will be part of the swap and Moscow has been tight-lipped. Film director and activist Oleg Sentsov, 43, has become Ukraine’s most famous political prisoner.

He was arrested in 2014 and has been serving a 20-year sentence in a Russian Arctic penal colony for planning “terrorist attacks” in Moscow-annexed Crimea.

Among other prisoners who could be eligible for a swap are 24 Ukrainian sailors captured last year.
Russia has been holding the sailors since seizing three vessels off Crimea last November in the most dangerous direct clash between Russia and Ukraine in years.

Some 13,000 people have been killed in Ukraine’s conflict with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine, which broke out shortly after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014.


India blocks SMS services in Kashmir after trucker killed

Updated 15 October 2019

India blocks SMS services in Kashmir after trucker killed

  • Security sources said the decision to cut text messaging services was taken to reduce the ability of militants to communicate
  • Indian authorities had only restored call and text services for mobile phones

SRINAGAR: Text messaging services were blocked in Indian Kashmir just hours after being restored when a truck driver was killed by suspected militants and his vehicle set ablaze, authorities said Tuesday.
Separately Indian officials said that a 24-year-old woman died in the latest exchange of artillery fire with Pakistan over their de-facto border dividing the blood-soaked Himalayan region.
Security sources said the decision to cut text messaging services was taken to reduce the ability of militants to communicate.
Indian authorities had only restored call and text services for mobile phones on Monday, following a 72-day blackout in the restive northern territory imposed after New Delhi scrapped the region's semi-autonomous status.
The seven million-plus people of the Kashmir Valley — the main hotbed of resistance to Indian rule — are still cut off from the Internet, however.
Authorities said SMS services were cut again on Monday night following the attack on the driver of a truck carrying apples in Shopian.
Residents said two masked gunmen told the driver to use his truck to block the road, but it skidded and got stuck.
“The gunmen then fired at the truck and set it on fire,” a witness told AFP.
Apples are a sensitive issue in Kashmir, which exports vast quantities of the fruit to markets across India.
Many orchard owners say they are refusing to harvest this year to protest against the government’s move to scrap Kashmir’s autonomy.
Indian authorities say that militants — backed by arch-rival Pakistan — have been intimidating farmers and businessmen.
The latest death from Pakistani artillery fire over the Line of Control (LoC) dividing Kashmir brings the number of fatalities on the Indian side to three in the past four days, the Press Trust of India reported.
Two Indian soldiers were killed in two separate incidents on Friday and Sunday, PTI said. It was unclear if there were any fatalities from Indian fire on the Pakistani side.
Also on Tuesday, police arrested 13 women activists in Srinagar after they staged a protest calling for civil liberties and the release of detainees.
The women, wearing black armbands, were arrested for “breaching the peace” and for a contravening a ban in place since early August on public gatherings of more than four people, police said.
They included the sister and daughter of former chief minister Farooq Abdullah, one of several hundred local politicians, lawyers and others in custody since early August, mostly without charge.
Abdullah, 81, was formally arrested in mid-September under the highly contentious Public Safety Act (PSA) that allows someone to be held for up to two years without charge, and which has been used widely in Kashmir in recent years.
Rebels have been fighting for three decades some 500,000 Indian soldiers deployed in the territory, demanding independence or to join Pakistan which also controls part of the region and, like India, claims it in full.