Freed Ukraine Observers Arrive in Germany
TEHRAN (Tasnim) - European military observers who were held more than a week by pro-Russian separatists have arrived in Germany a day after they were released in the Ukrainian eastern town of Slovyansk.
The five observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - along with five of their Ukrainian assistants - were freed on Saturday.
They were deployed following a pact struck between Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the US in mid-April aimed to resolve the crisis, which began with Russia's annexation of Crimea.
"We are deeply relieved that the members of the kidnapped OSCE team have landed unharmed here in Germany, in Berlin," Ursula von der Leyen, Germany's defence minister, said in Berlin.
"I would like to express my deep gratitude and my respect for the infinitely good cooperation we saw. This is why my Danish colleague and my Czech colleague have come here this evening as well as the High Representative from Sweden and a High Representative from Poland. It was important to us to make clear that we member countries of the OSCE fully back this mission."
Nicolai Wammen, Denmark's defence minister, said: "We will continue from the Danish side to support the OSCE mission. It is important that they can work and conduct their important business in Ukraine and that this event will not make that more difficult in the future."
The mission's prospects became clouded a week after their deployment when they were detained by armed men in Slovyansk, the crucible of unrest in eastern Ukraine.
The pro-Russian separatists holding them alleged the observers were spying for NATO and carrying suspicious material; one from non-NATO member Sweden was released two days later, but the rest remained in custody until Saturday.
The separatists' leader in Slovyansk, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying he ordered the release because of increasing insecurity in the city, according to AP.
In recent days, at least four Ukrainian soldiers were killed on the city's outskirts - two of them when helicopters were shot down - and at least 10 civilians have been killed, according to Ponomarev.