Observers held in Ukraine say in good health, want to go home

by Reuters
Sunday, 27 April 2014 11:58 GMT

(Adds more quotes, details)

By Thomas Grove

SLAVIANSK, Ukraine, April 27 (Reuters) - The leader of the international observers detained by pro-Russian separatists in the east Ukrainian city of Slaviansk said on Sunday all the group were in good health, but they were anxious to be allowed to go home soon.

Appearing in public for the first time since they were held three days ago, seven officers from the observer team and their translator were brought into a room of waiting journalists in the separatist-held city administration building.

Guards in camouflage fatigues and balaclavas, carrying Kalashnikov rifles, were also in the room as journalists spoke to the observers, who were in Ukraine under the auspices of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Colonel Axel Schneider, who was leading the observer mission, said the group came to Slaviansk without weapons and were there strictly in line with their mandate under OSCE rules, to carry out military verification work.

"We were accommodated in a cellar. We had to set up conditions for ourselves," said Schneider, describing what happened after they were seized. "Since yesterday we've been in a more comfortable room with heating. We have daylight, and an air conditioner."

Schneider, who had a shaven head, a closely-cropped beard and was wearing a plaid button-down shirt, told reporters he had "not been touched," and that there had been no physical mistreatment of the group.

The group sat side by side at a long table in front of the reporters, looking sombre and serious, but otherwise well.

"All the European officers are in good health and no one is sick," Schneider said.

He said the separatist de factor mayor of Slaviansk, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, had guaranteed the group's safety. He said he believed the mayor's promise. Ponomaryov appeared with the detained men at the news conference.

"We have no indication when we will be sent home to our countries," Schneider said. "We wish from the bottom of our hearts to go back to our nations as soon and as quickly as possible." (Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Nigel Stephenson)

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