OSCE teams missing in Ukraine likely in Lugansk: rebel leader

4th June 2014, Comments 0 comments

Two groups of international observers who have gone missing in the east of Ukraine are likely being held in the restive region of Lugansk, a separatist leader told AFP Wednesday.

The two teams from the Vienna-based Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- totalling eight monitors and one local translator -- have been unaccounted for since last week.

"We are looking for them. Everything indicates that the two groups are currently in the Lugansk region, where we don't have much control," said Leonid Baranov, a member of the Security Council of the self-proclaimed "People's Republic of Donetsk" set up by pro-Russian separatists.

"I don't have any concrete information about who is keeping them," said Baranov, who also heads a committee on refugees and prisoners of war.

The OSCE has said both a four-member international team nabbed in the Donetsk region on Monday last week and another four European monitors and their local translator abducted in neighbouring Lugansk on Thursday remain out of contact.

"We're striving to bring about order, but we aren't quite there yet," Baranov said, when asked about the existence of armed groups operating outside the control of the pro-Russian authorities.

The pro-Russian insurgents are currently working with the OCSE and the United Nations to bring about a prisoner exchange with the Ukrainian authorities, he said.

He said his side was aiming for an exchange of all its prisoners for all prisoners kept by Ukrainian authorities.

He estimated that about 100 pro-Russian people were being held by Ukrainian forces.

"That's the ones we know about. There may be more that we don't know anything about," said Baranov.

He didn't give any number for those held by the "People's Republic of Donetsk".

"It's very hard to tell," he said, adding that communications are difficult with the cities of Slavyansk and Kramatorsk, where fighting is taking place on an almost daily basis.

In Donetsk, 10 or 15 are being held by pro-Russian forces, "essentially people who have carried out hostile activities or have produced propaganda against the People's Republic of Donetsk," he said.

Baranov said he was counting on the OSCE and the UN to help recover the bodies of pro-Russian fighters who were killed at the end of May in fierce battles near the Donetsk airport, which is currently under Ukrainian control.

On international official who requested anonymity told AFP that the Ukrainian side is obstructing attempts to recover the bodies, which remain in the airport area.

© 2014 AFP

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