India and Pakistan to set free hundreds of prisoners

India and Pakistan prepared their largest prisoner exchange since the peace process launched last year, bringing hundreds of convicts to their main border crossing to let them return home.

Border guards at the Wagah crossing were set to release 435 Indian prisoners and 152 Pakistanis, all of whom served out their sentences but languished in prisons because of the diplomatic hostility between the two countries.

The peace gesture comes ahead of a Sept. 14 meeting between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Pakistan President Gen. Pervez Musharraf on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly session.

Hundreds of relatives of the prisoners assembled at a meeting spot near the "Zero Line," the main border post between the two countries. Most of them were from the border states of Jammu-Kashmir, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Punjab.

In past decades, hundreds of Pakistanis and Indians have been caught on the wrong side of the border and imprisoned on suspicion of spying. Nearly all say they accidentally wandered across the poorly marked frontier.

Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said Friday his country was prepared to be "unilaterally lenient" in such cases in the future. "They are poor people. What are we doing spoiling their lives?" he said.

As the AP reports, Pakistan released 589 Indians last year, and India released 182 Pakistanis, as tensions between the nuclear-armed neighbors eased.

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