June 28, 2014 2:39 pm

4 captive OSCE observers are released by pro-Russian rebels

WATCH ABOVE: Pro-Russia separatists on Saturday released a second team of observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) who had been held captive since the end of May.

MOSCOW – The Interfax news agency is reporting that pro-Russian insurgents have released four European observers who they have held captive for weeks.

The news agency quoted the press service of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic as saying that the four observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have been freed and are en route to the eastern city of Donetsk.

VIDEO GALLERY: Violence in Ukraine


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The rebels released another group of the OSCE observers earlier this week.

On Saturday, Russia’s foreign minister accused the United States of encouraging Ukraine to challenge Moscow and heavily weighing in on the European Union.

Speaking in televised remarks Saturday, Sergey Lavrov said that “our American colleagues still prefer to push the Ukrainian leadership toward a confrontational path.”

He added that chances for settling the Ukrainian crisis would have been higher if it only depended on Russia and Europe.

READ MORE: Crisis in Ukraine

Lavrov spoke after Friday’s European Union summit, which decided not to immediately impose new sanctions on Russia for destabilizing eastern Ukraine, but gave the Russian government and pro-Russian insurgents there until Monday to take steps to improve the situation.

Ukraine on Friday signed a free-trade pact with the EU, the very deal that a former Ukrainian president dumped under pressure from Moscow in November, fueling huge protests that eventually drove him from power. Moscow responded by annexing the mainly Russian-speaking Crimean Peninsula in March, and a pro-Russian insurgency in eastern Ukraine erupted the month after, leading to the developments that have brought Russia-West relations to their lowest point since the Cold War times.

The U.S. and the EU have slapped travel bans and asset freezes on members of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle and threatened to impose more crippling sanctions against entire sectors of Russia’s economy if the Kremlin fails to de-escalate the crisis.

The EU leaders on Friday said Russia and the rebels should take steps to ease the violence, including releasing all captives, retreating from border checkpoints, agreeing on a way to verify the cease-fire and launching “substantial negotiations” on Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko’s peace plan.

The weeklong cease-fire, which both sides have been accused of violating, expired at 10 p.m. local time (1900 GMT), but Poroshenko quickly declared its extension until 10 p.m. local time Monday.

READ MORE: Russia’s Lavrov accuses West of plotting to seize Ukraine

A leader of the insurgents, Alexander Borodai, promised to abide by the extended cease-fire after Friday’s troika talks that included a former Ukrainian president who represented the Kyiv government, the Russian ambassador and an OSCE envoy.

He rejected the EU leaders’ demand to retreat from three checkpoints on the border with Russia captured by the rebels, but invited OSCE to send its monitors to the border crossings and any other areas in the east.

Four other OSCE observers are still being held, but Borodai promised Friday to free them “in the nearest days.”

Earlier this week, insurgents released four observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe after weeks of captivity.

 

© The Associated Press, 2014

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