ARTEMIVSK, Ukraine - Pro-Russian insurgents early on June 27 released four of eight Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) observers held hostage for more than a month in eastern Ukraine, Reuters reported.
The four international observers - citizens of Switzerland, Turkey, Estonia and Denmark - were brought by several gunmen in a van to a hotel in rebel-held central Donetsk, where they were greeted warmly by their colleagues. They were detained on May 26 in the mining town of Torez, Donetsk Oblast before being taken east to Atratsyt and then kept in nearby Pervalsk, a suburb of Alchevsk, Luhansk Oblast.
The other four observers, including a Spanish, Dutch, Russian and German national (a woman), remain rebel hostages and are being held in Luhansk Oblast. They are being kept in much harsher conditions than a previous seven-member group of OSCE military observers who were detained in Sloviansk, a rebel stronghold, on April 25 and released after a week of negotiations, an OSCE spokesperson said.
"In Sloviansk we had daily contact with our people as well as (Vyacheslav) Ponomarev (then local leader of separatists), we saw the hostages and were able to bring some food for them,” Michael Bociurkiw, an OSCE spokesman previously told the Kyiv Post.
The eight observers were sent to Ukraine more than a month ago as part of team of 100 to monitor the Geneva agreement aimed at calming the conflict that has racked the country since April, cost the lives of hundreds of people and displaced tens of thousands more.
"It was a long road and this release is the fruit of good will and it was unconditional," Alexander Borodai, prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, told journalists. "I am hoping we can facilitate the release of the four remaining observers."
The release of all detained OSCE observers has been a large part of the ongoing peace talks between mediators representing Kyiv, Russia, the OSCE and separatists, who are set to gather again in Donetsk on June 27.
Senior OSCE mediator in southeastern Ukraine Mark Etherington was quoted by Reuters as saying the mission was "profoundly grateful" to all those who facilitated the release of the four observers on June 27.
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