PESHAWAR, Pakistan -- Two Soviet prisoners of war captured by the rebel Mujahideen during the Afghanistan war were released Monday at a ceremony attended by their mothers and Pakistan and Afghan officials.
Andrey Lopukh from Byelorussia and Valeri Prokopchuk of the Ukraine walked into the welcoming arms of their mothers, who sobbed openly as they clasped their sons and hugged them.
The two Soviet soldiers, both in their 20s, were wearing new Afghan traditional clothing, complete with vest, headgear and shiny black shoes.
'Be calm. Be calm. People are looking,' Lopukh whispered to his mother as she wept at the reunion.
The Soviet ambassador to Pakistan, Victor P. Yakunin, shook hands with Pir Gilani, acting head of the unofficial Afghan interim government and said he welcomed the prisoners' repatriation.
'It is a good beginning and I hope it is not the end,' Yakunin said.
Yakunin told reporters he expected the Moscow-backed Kabul government would release eight Afghan and 25 Pakistani POWs as a reciprocal gesture and said he did not rule out the possibility of the release of a few Arab POWs who fought as mercenaries on the rebel side in Afghanistan.
Yakunin described Monday's release as 'the first waft of breeze.'
Gilani said the the POW release would be reciprocated by the Afghan interim government.
'We have no enemity with the Soviets. We would like to be friends with Moscow,' he said. 'It was the Soviets who attacked us and left us no alternative but to fight for our survival.'
Pointing at the two weeping mothers, Gilani said many Afghan mothers were suffering like the Soviet mothers and await the return of their sons who are missing in action.
He urged the two women and the Soviet POW release committee to bring pressure on Moscow to give up its support for the Kabul government.
Pakistan's acting foreign secretary, Bashir Khan Babar, thanked the Kabul government for releasing the two POWs and said his government appreciated the humanitarian gesture of the Mujahideen.
Pakistan Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, in Peshawar for the release, prayed that 'all sons, whether Afghan or Soviet, would soon return to their families.'
Bhutto said there are many other families in the Soviet Union still awaiting the return of their sons missing in action in Afghanistan.