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Pro-Russian rebels 'agree' to exchange prisoners with Ukraine

Eastern Ukraine's separatist rebels say they have agreed upon exchanging prisoners with Kyiv. Further steps to a lasting peace plan will be discussed in the coming days in Minsk.

Members of the Ukraine contact group cut a deal on swapping prisoners during their meeting in Minsk, Alexander Zakharchenko, leader of the pro-Russian rebels told the Interfax news agency on Thursday.

The self-declared republics of Donetsk and Luhansk were ready to exchange 150 Ukrainian troops for 225 prisoners who supported the rebels fighting for liberation in eastern Ukraine, Zakharchenko added, saying that the next steps for a lasting peace deal would still have to be discussed.

The government in Kyiv has not yet confirmed a prisoner swap deal, however.

The Ukraine contact group, including representatives from Kyiv, pro-Russian rebels and officials from Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE)

met on Wednesday in Belarus' capital Minsk

to discuss peace between Ukraine and rebels in its eastern region.

The talks were carried forward through video conferencing on Thursday and were to resume in Minsk on Friday, although

there was no confirmation in this regard

.

First discussions since September

The peace talks, which would also include agreeing upon withdrawing heavy weapons and humanitarian aid to eastern Ukraine, were the first attempt to find a lasting solution to the Ukraine crisis since a similar discussion in September.

Attempts to enforce a ceasefire were unsuccessful

, with the warring sides blaming each other for violating the truce.

More than 4,600 people have been killed since the fighting in the eastern Ukraine regions of Donetsk and Luhansk broke out in April, following Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula.

Ukraine and the West have accused Moscow of stoking the flames of conflict in eastern Ukraine by supplying the separatists with troops and weapons, something the Kremlin denies.

The EU and the US have imposed sanctions

on Russia over its alleged involvement.

mg/jr (dpa, AP)

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