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Europe

Ukraine says OSCE hostages used as ‘human shields’

Video by Sanam SHANTYAEI

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2014-04-27

Ukraine said eight captive international observers were being used as human shields, while pro-Russian rebels holding the group accused them of being "NATO spies" and said they would be freed only in a prisoner exchange.

Ukraine said eight captive international observers were being used as human shields, while pro-Russian rebels holding the group accused them of being "NATO spies" and said they would be freed only in a prisoner exchange.

"Yesterday, we arrested some NATO spies ... they will be exchanged for our own prisoners. I don't see any other way they will be freed," said Denis Pushilin, the head of the insurgents' self-declared Donetsk Republic, in comments to reporters on Saturday.

Pushilin was speaking in front of the SBU security services building in rebel-held Slaviansk, where the team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was being held.

The OSCE has dispatched a negotiating team to try to secure the release of observers, a German government source said on Saturday.

Russian involvement

Earlier on Saturday, Russia also pledged to help the captured observers.

"We believe that these people should be released as soon as possible," Russia's envoy to the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Andrei Kelin, told Russia's state RIA Novosti news agency. Russian's foreign ministry also issued a statement saying Moscow was "taking measures" to resolve the situation, but did not provide details.

Still, the pro-Western government in Kiev did not seem convinced by Russia’s pledges. Ukraine blamed Russia for what it called the kidnapping.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry urged Russia to support efforts to free the observers. Kerry also told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in a call Saturday that the United States is concerned that Moscow’s actions are “undermining stability, security and unity” in Ukraine.

The State Department says Kerry cited Russia’s “provocative” troop movements along the border, Moscow’s support for separatists and Russia’s “inflammatory rhetoric.”

Spying accusations

Slaviansk’s self-styled mayor, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, told Russian TV news crews that the OSCE members were being considered "intelligence officers of NATO country members".

"Military personnel from Denmark, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, I think, and – from somewhere else, I can't immediately recall – have been detained," he said in broadcasts aired in Moscow.

"We believe an OSCE mission does not imply the participation of military personnel entering our territory unimpeded and studying our facilities," he said.

The observers were detained Friday at the entrance to Slaviansk and taken to the rebel-held security services building.

German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said the pro-Russian separatists had taken 13 mission members, including three members of the German army and an interpreter.

Washington called for the immediate release of the OSCE team and State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki repeated claims that "there is a strong connection between – Russia and these separatists" who are now taking hostages.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said on his Twitter feed that one of the OSCE members was a Swede.

The OSCE headquarters in Vienna said that all the observers in its main mission on the ground in Ukraine were accounted for.

However, the detained group appears to be part of a separate, smaller unarmed military verification mission under German command.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)

 

 

Date created : 2014-04-26

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