WATCH ABOVE: (Apr. 27, 2014) Today the group appeared in public for the first time under armed guard and said they weren’t being mistreated. But as Jacques Bourbeau reports, the insurgents want to strengthen their control in eastern Ukraine and aren’t backing down.
SLOVYANSK, Ukraine – A group of eight European military observers being held prisoner by pro-Russia insurgents in Ukraine appeared in public Sunday and gave assurances that they weren’t being mistreated.
Col. Axel Schneider from Germany, who appeared nervous as he spoke for the group, stressed they were on a diplomatic mission under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe when detained Friday and weren’t spying for NATO, as the insurgents claim.
“The mayor of this city granted us his protection and he regarded us as his guests,” Schneider told journalists in Slovyansk, the eastern Ukrainian city that has become the centre of the pro-Russia insurgency. “I can tell you that the word of the mayor is a word of honour. We have not been touched.”
Schneider said he understood that the self-proclaimed mayor, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, could use the observers as a bargaining chip. Ponomarev said Saturday that they could be released in exchange for jailed pro-Russia activists.
The insurgents in Slovyansk have increasingly turned to hostage-taking as they seek to cement their control in the east of the country in defiance of the interim government in Kyiv, the capital, and its Western supporters.
On Sunday, they captured three Ukrainian security service officers and displayed them to journalists bloodied and blindfolded with packing tape. Stripped of their trousers and shoes, the captive officers sat with heads bowed in the security service headquarters in Slovyansk early Sunday.
Igor Strelkov, who has been identified as the commander of the armed insurgents, said the three Ukrainian officers were on a mission to seize leaders of the pro-Russia force when they were captured.
Ukraine’s Security Service confirmed that its officers had been seized by armed men. The officers were on a mission to detain a Russian citizen suspected in the killing of a Ukrainian parliament member, the agency said in a statement.
© The Canadian Press, 2014