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OSCE ‘concerned’ over missing members in separatist Ukraine

The world’s largest security body said Sunday it is “extremely concerned” after several of its Ukrainian members were believed to have been arrested in pro-Russian separatist territories in the country’s east.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) evacuated many of its staff from the country after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24.

Many had been in the east to observe a ceasefire after Russia’s 2014 annexation of the Crimean peninsula.

Several Ukrainian members stayed, and the OSCE said on Twitter they had been “deprived of their liberty”, in line with Russian media reports they had been arrested.

“The OSCE is extremely concerned that a number of @OSCE_SMM national mission members have been deprived of their liberty in Donetsk and Lugansk,” it said in a tweet Sunday.

It added that it is “using all available channels to facilitate their release”.

The security services of the Lugansk separatists said this month they had arrested two members of the OSCE mission, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.

TASS said one of them had “confessed” to passing “confidential military information to representatives of foreign special services” and that a high treason investigation had been opened against him.

The Donetsk separatist prosecutor’s office confirmed he had opened espionage probes against several OSCE employees suspected of having collected and transmitted “information constituting state secrets” to the Ukrainian secret services.

The prosecutor’s office said this included videos revealing the position of separatist military units.

On Sunday, the US ambassador to the OSCE, Michael Carpenter, called for the body’s members to be released.

“Russia’s lies claiming Ukrainian @OSCE_SMM staff spied for the Ukrainian government are reprehensible,” he said on Twitter.

“Staff loyally and impartially served the @OSCE. Any staff held by should be released immediately and will be held accountable for any harm they suffer.”

The OSCE international observation mission in Ukraine was not renewed at the end of March, after Moscow blocked the proposal, meaning international OSCE staff had to leave the country by the end of April.

The Vienna-based OSCE has 57 member states on three continents — including Russia, Ukraine and the United States.