OSCE in talks to release monitors held in Ukraine, says they're "OK"

by Reuters
Sunday, 1 June 2014 14:31 GMT

KIEV, June 1 (Reuters) - A special mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe is in talks with a number of groups in eastern Ukraine to release two of its teams that have been detained there for days, a spokesman said on Sunday.

A team of four monitors has been held in the Donetsk region since last Monday evening, while another four plus a Ukrainian translator were detained around the Luhansk region on Thursday. There has been sporadic fighting in both regions between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian forces.

"We're engaged in dialogue on a wide number of levels. We've been on the ground in that region for about two months now and we're well known to many people who hold sway in those areas so we're in a good position, we feel, to get our colleagues back to base," said Michael Bociurkiw, spokesman of the special mission.

"We're quite confident that they're in good shape, they haven't been harmed," he told journalists outside the OSCE's office in Kiev. He would not elaborate on the talks as they were sensitive.

Asked why he was confident the staff were unharmed, Bociurkiw said: "We're working through a number of channels and there's positive signals from those that they're OK."

In a region where there has been a proliferation in recent weeks of armed groups calling themselves "battalions", it was still not clear which separatists were holding the monitoring teams.

The prime minister of the self-styled Donetsk People's Republic, Alexander Boroday, said last week he did not know where the Donetsk team was being held.

Similarly, the office of the self-proclaimed mayor of Slaviansk, a small town in the Donetsk region which has seen the heaviest fighting in the two-month conflict, said it had no influence over the groups holding the monitors.

The OSCE began its work monitoring the conflict in eastern Ukraine and "facilitating dialogue" after all OSCE states, including Russia and Ukraine, requested the special mission. It currently has 294 staff in 10 cities around the country. (Reporting by Sabina Zawadzki; Editing by Lynne O'Donnell)

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