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Red Cross chief: major prisoner swap deal is option in Russia-Ukraine war


International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Mirjana Spoljaric Egger attends a briefing in Geneva, Switzerland, December 14, 2022. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Wednesday that a major prisoner of war swap deal was a “possibility” in the Ukraine-Russia conflict.

Mirjana Spoljaric, a former Swiss diplomat who took on the role of ICRC president in October, was speaking days after returning from a trip to Ukraine where she met senior officials in Kyiv.

The independent humanitarian body is involved with visiting prisoners on both sides of the war and has a history of managing prisoner exchanges in conflicts around the world.

“On an all-for-all exchange, it has happened in the past, it is a known practice, and it can happen in the Russia-Ukraine international conflict as well,” Spoljaric told reporters at the group’s Geneva headquarters in response to a Reuters question.

“So this possibility is certainly one that can be taken by the parties.” She declined to give further details.

An ICRC spokesperson later said the group was ready to facilitate prisoner exchanges if requested by Russia or Ukraine but that it was up to the two countries to hold talks to come to an agreement on the issue.

Spoljaric said a major prisoner swap could build confidence and that such exchanges had in the past constituted “the first step to a broader agreement”. She said she also hopes to visit Moscow, without saying when.

The ICRC visits people in detention centres worldwide to check that their treatment and conditions are in line with the Geneva Conventions and transmits messages to family members. It also tries to reunite split families through a tracing bureau.

“There’s nothing worse than not knowing where your child is,” said Spoljaric, tearing up. “So it’s my personal commitment also that we are able to conduct this work as the law obliges.”

Thousands of prisoners of war are thought to be held by both sides in the Ukraine-Russia conflict, although exact numbers are unknown.