Authorities of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic have said that the other four OSCE representatives were set free in eastern Ukraine. The group had been kept in the region since the end of May on suspicion of gathering intelligence.
A Donetsk People’s Republic spokesman told journalists on Saturday that four members of a monitoring group of the Organization of Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) have been freed from detention and brought to the city of Donetsk.
“Four OSCE observers have been released and are being transferred to Donetsk,” the spokesman said, as quoted by RIA Novosti.
The leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Aleksandr Boroday, told reporters that the observers were freed on the territory of Lugansk People's Republic. “There were a lot of commanders there and it was not that easy to free them. Nevertheless, we managed to do so,” he said.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed Russia's role in securing the release of the observers. “Russia has contributed to this commission and has helped ensure a release [of the OSCE captives] was possible. I am happy about that and I hope that the four observers, including one German citizen, are able to travel out of Ukraine tomorrow," he told journalists in Berlin.
Kiev has confirmed the release of the observers, with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s spokesman saying that the foreign nationals are being released “within the framework of carrying out the peace plan” of the president.
Deputy Chief Monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine, Mark Etherington, asked for some privacy for the released observers when speaking to reporters.
“We request our friends and colleagues in the press now allow them [freed observers] the peace, quiet, and time with their families that they both need and deserve. Many people, both inside and outside our mission, have worked tirelessly to secure their release and we take this opportunity to publicly thank them,” he said.
Another group of four OSCE observers was released overnight on Thursday. The group included citizens of Estonia, Switzerland, Turkey, and Denmark.
Local self-defense forces detained both groups, as well as another one in April, on suspicion that the foreigners were gathering intelligence for NATO or Kiev. As for the groups detained in May, various authorities of the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics gave conflicting accounts of the reasons behind the detentions, but said the observers were treated well.
The groups never notified the self-proclaimed authorities of their mission and had been moving in the battle zone despite the latter’s demands to halt such activity for their own safety. Following their detentions, the observers were allowed to communicate via Skype.