By Pavel Polityuk KYIV (Reuters) -Europe’s main security watchdog said its monitors of the conflict in eastern Ukraine were prevented from leaving their hotel by Russian-backed separatists who are seeking the release of an officer held by Kyiv’s forces. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said late on Sunday that the vehicle […]
Ukraine demands action as separatists keep OSCE monitors prisoner in hotel
By Pavel Polityuk
KYIV (Reuters) -Europe’s main security watchdog said its monitors of the conflict in eastern Ukraine were prevented from leaving their hotel by Russian-backed separatists who are seeking the release of an officer held by Kyiv’s forces.
The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said late on Sunday that the vehicle gates of its patrol base in the separatist-controlled town of Horlivka had been locked with a chain and padlock.
The OSCE had already suspended a monitoring mission (SMM) by its team in the city of Donetsk after protesters gathered and pitched tents outside another hotel over the issue of the captured officer.
The separatists said they were trying to free the OSCE monitors in Horlivka and “resolve the situation”.
The SMM has been deployed in eastern Ukraine since 2014 with the aim of arranging dialogue between Kyiv’s forces and the separatists amid a conflict that Ukraine says has so far claimed about 14,000 lives.
“The owner of the hotel… informed SMM staff that the mission would be prevented from leaving the premises citing “orders from the ‘Mayor’ of Horlivka”, the statement said.
It said two men had informed the SMM staff that they would not be allowed to leave the hotel premises until the captured officer was freed.
The Ukrainian government described the OSCE monitors as “hostages” and in a statement called on the international community to investigate what it said was another attempt to undermine the monitoring mission’s ability to operate.
“The detention of international observers by armed individuals is a sign of international terrorism,” the Ukrainian delegation to the peace talks said.
The foreign minister of the Russia-backed self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic, Natalya Nikonorova, told Reuters that local officials were trying to free the OSCE monitors in Horlivka.
“We contacted the organizers of the protest and will try to resolve the situation,” she said. The OSCE mission in Donetsk was safe and its monitors had not asked to leave the building so far, Nikonorova said.
The people outside the hotel were unarmed, Nikonorova said. “There are no acts of violence… People express their resentment and, by the way, we understand them.”
The separatists say the officer, Andrei Kosyak, was captured by the Ukrainian military near the front line last Wednesday while he was helping to oversee the ceasefire.
The Ukrainian defence ministry said Kosyak was a Russian citizen and belonged to a group of Russian servicemen who had carried out an undercover reconnaissance mission.
On Sunday, the SMM also said three of its patrol vehicles were prevented from travelling from government to separatist-controlled areas until Kosyak was freed.
The conflict dates back to 2014, when Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine after mass street protests that ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, a Kremlin ally.
Fighting then erupted in eastern Ukraine between Kyiv’s forces and Russian-backed separatists. Moscow rejects Kyiv’s accusations that it has deliberately fomented the conflict and that it has forces in eastern Ukraine.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk in Kyiv and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow;Editing by Gareth Jones and Matthias Williams)