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Ukraine Vows Continued Offensive As Second OSCE Team Missing

Pro-Russian fighters of the Vostok (East) Battalion rip apart a Ukrainian flag outside the regional administration building in the eastern city of Donetsk, on May 29.
Ukraine's government says that it will press on with an offensive to restore peace and order, as a second team of international monitors has reportedly been detained by pro-Russian gunmen.

Acting Defense Minister Mykhaylo Koval said government forces have "completely cleared" pro-Russian rebels from parts of the separatist east.

Koval was speaking to reporters in Kyiv on May 30, one day after 14 government troops, including a general, were killed when rebels shot down an army helicopter.

"Our armed forces have completed their assigned missions and completely cleared the southern and western parts of the Donetsk region and the northern part of the Luhansk region of the separatists," Koval said.

"Our given task is to bring peace and order to the region," he added.

Koval also repeated charges that Russia was carrying out "special operations" in eastern Ukraine.

He said Ukrainian forces would continue with military operations in border areas "until these regions begin to live normally, until there is peace."

Meanwhile, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the pan-European rights and security body, said a team of four international monitors and a Ukrainian language assistant was stopped by gunmen in the town of Severodonetsk, 100 kilometers north of Luhansk.

The OSCE said it lost contact with the team on the evening of May 29.

It said the detained team was in addition to another group of monitors still missing in eastern Ukraine, which was last heard from on the evening of May 26.

The OSCE said members of that team -- Danish, Turkish, Swiss, and Estonian nationals -- were on a routine patrol east of Donetsk.

A rebel leader confirmed on May 29 that those four monitors were in their custody. The rebels assured journalists that they would "deal with this and then release them," but did not give a specific time frame.

The OSCE teams are in Ukraine to monitor the security situation following the rise of a pro-Russia separatist insurgency.

In a separate development, one faction of pro-Russian insurgents in eastern Ukraine has reportedly evicted another faction from the regional administration building in Donetsk, which has served as the separatists' headquarters.

Western media reports said heavily armed fighters of the so-called Vostok Battalion flooded into Donetsk last weekend.

Many are believed to be from Chechnya and other areas in the Caucasus.

The U.S. State Department said on May 29 that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had raised concerns about foreign fighters entering Ukraine -- particularly Chechens -- with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
With reporting by Reuters, AFP, AP, and Interfax
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