Ukraine monitors alive, talks ongoing: OSCE chief

3rd June 2014, Comments 0 comments

Two OSCE monitoring teams taken prisoner by separatist gunmen in eastern Ukraine are alive, the head of the European security body said Monday.

"We know where they are. They are alive and well," said Lamberto Zannier, secretary general of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Zannier told reporters that the OSCE was working around the clock to win the captives' freedom, but declined to elaborate, citing the confidential nature of the talks.

"My priority is to win their immediate freedom, without conditions," he said, after briefing diplomats at Swiss think-tank the Geneva Centre for Security Policy.

A four-member team was seized in the strife-torn Donetsk region on Monday last week, four days after another four monitors and their local translator were abducted in neighbouring Lugansk.

The two-month-old monitoring mission from the OSCE -- an organisation whose membership stretches from Canada to Russia -- is tasked with reporting rights abuses and assessing the security situation on the ground.

It also aims to build dialogue between the pro-Russian insurgents and Kiev-backed local authorities.

But the monitors have faced suspicion among the rebels, amid claims that they favour Kiev or are Western spies.

Seven OSCE monitors were branded "prisoners of war" and held in the rebel stronghold of Slavyansk for eight days, before being released under Western and Russian pressure on May 3.

An eighth member of that group was freed after two days, due to illness.

Another 11 observers were detained briefly near Donetsk last Wednesday.

Zannier said all the monitors were simply doing their job.

"It's transparency, not spying," he said.

"I find it outrageous that our monitors that are acting on the basis of a mandate, that are reporting on the security situation, can be accused of being spies," he added.

The mission comprises 296 international and 20 local staff in various regions of Ukraine, but there are plans to raise the numbers.

Owing to security problems, the OSCE "footprint" is being reduced temporarily in the east, Zannier said, declining to give numbers.

The rebels have declared independence and aim to merge with Russia, like Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, seized by pro-Kremlin troops in March.

Russia has faced repeated accusations of stoking the crisis by letting militants and arms pour into Ukraine.

Zannier urged Moscow to stem the flow across its 1,400-kilometre (870-mile) frontier with Ukraine.

"We need better control on the borders. Because if we keep having militias coming in and then complicating the picture, that certainly doesn't bode well for future stability," he said.

"Both sides need to do this, but I think the Russians have a particular responsibility," he added.

As Kiev pursues its offensive against the rebels, Zannier also called for talks.

"We need traction on the political level that will generate progress, allowing us to de-escalate on the military side," he said.

"It is very difficult to resolve this situation from a purely military perspective."


© 2014 AFP

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