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OSCE observers freed

The OSCE has confirmed that its team of observers caught by pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine has been freed. Separatists said there had been no conditions for the release to take place.

European military observers held by pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have been released in the town of Slovyansk, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) confirmed on Saturday.

We can now confirm the release of the military observers," said a spokeswoman for the OSCE. "Staff of the special monitoring mission are now waiting to receive them."

Russia's RIA news agency had earlier quoted Putin's envoy announcing the release.

"They have freed all of those who were on my list," envoy Vladimir Lukin was quoted as saying.

Seven observers from the OSCE being held by armed separatists had been detained for more than a week by the time the release had been announced.

The captives - kidnapped last Friday when unknown individuals stopped their bus - come from Germany, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland and Sweden. They were initially accused of spying for NATO.

Birthday celebrations

Pro-Russian separatist leader, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov said there had been no conditions for the release to take place. In previous negotations, the rebels had said the release would only take place if there was a prisoner exhange for jailed Russian activists.

"As I promised them, we celebrated my birthday yesterday and they left. As I said, they were my guests," he said.

On Monday, Germany called for Russia to help secure the hostages' immediate release, with Chancellor Angela Merkel repeating the appeal to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

Ukraine's security service estimates that the separatists have captured about 40 people and locked them in makeshift jails in Slovyansk - including journalists, activists and the observers.

rc/jr (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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