'Unprecedented' harassment of OSCE observers in Ukraine

19th August 2015, Comments 0 comments

OSCE observers in eastern Ukraine have faced "unprecedented" harassment during the recent spike in violence, mostly from Russian-backed rebels, the chief OSCE monitor said Wednesday.

The mission's "security has been challenged at an unprecedented level. Our patrols have come under fire, including from heavy weapons," Ertugrul Apakan said at Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe headquarters in Vienna.

"Monitors have been harassed, guns have been pointed at them," the Turkish diplomat in charge of the more than 400-strong OSCE mission monitoring the 16-month-old conflict told a news conference.

"These incidents have been on both sides of the contact line, but mostly in the rebel side, particularly this harassment," he said.

He said the "highest point" was an arson attack on four OSCE vehicles on the night of August 8 in the rebels' de-facto capital Donetsk, saying it "likely was a direct attack against the mission, to undermine its operations."

He also said that jamming of OSCE drones has "increased" in recent weeks.

The Western-backed Kiev government and the insurgents on Monday reported the deaths of at lest 10 soldiers and civilians -- a dramatic escalation that sparked international condemnation and marked the worst bloodshed in more than a month.

Monday's clashes were the culmination of days of restlessness that saw the number of rocket and heavy artillery fire exchanges climb to levels not recorded since the signing of a very loosely observed February armistice.

Apakan said that the OSCE has observed "more, and more serious fighting... Ceasefire violations have become more frequent and more severe."

He also warned of a "worrying" deterioration of the humanitarian situation.

Russian President Vladimir Putin pinned the upsurge on alleged preparations by Kiev to grab back territories it had lost in the course of the war that has claimed more than 6,500 lives.

In a sign of the fraught situation, France said Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko would travel to Berlin on Monday to discuss the latest spike in violence with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande -- the Western sponsors of the February truce deal -- and without Putin.

Apakan's deputy Alexander Hug meanwhile accused the rebels of "systematically denying (the OSCE) access to large sections of the Ukraine-Russian border."

Hug told Germany's Die Welt daily that besides fighting in Donetsk, there are now "new flashpoints which were not there in the last three or four months".

These included sites "along the so-called contact line, the frontline, to Mariupol", a southern port city, he said, adding that he was personally travelling to Donetsk to assess the situation.

© 2015 AFP

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