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Report Shcharansky May Be Part of Prisoner Exchange Deal Between South Africa and the USSR

The International Committee of the Red Cross is reported to be acting as an intermediary for an exchange of prisoners between South Africa and the Soviet Union. According to rumors, Soviet Jewish activist Anataly Shcharansky may be included in the deal. The ICRC confirmed this week that it had been contacted three weeks ago by the Soviet and South African governments. A report in the South African Rand Daily Mail by its Geneva correspondent said the ICRC had been asked by the Soviets and South Africans to act as go-between in an exchange involving Russian sergeant Nicolai Pestrestov, captured by South African soldiers when they invaded Angola last August and a South African soldier, Johan van der Mesch, who was captured by the Southwest Africa Peoples Organization (SWAPO) in 1979.

The Soviets apparently initiated the exchange. According to diplomatic sources here, the Israeli government pressured the government in Pretoria to insist that the Russians also release Shcharansky if they want their man back.