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OSCE Monitors Freed By Pro-Russian Separatists in Ukraine

The first team of OSCE observers arrive at a hotel in Donetsk after being freed on June 27.
The first team of OSCE observers arrive at a hotel in Donetsk after being freed on June 27.

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have released four OSCE monitors they had held captive for more than one month.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine said on its Facebook page on June 28 that the group had been released after being held for 32 days by the rebels.

They are the second group of captive OSCE monitors to be released in three days, as a group of four OSCE monitors were also freed on June 26 in the Donetsk region.

The release of the monitors was one of the demands made by EU leaders to Russia on June 27 in Brussels as a sign of Moscow's working to de-escalate the situation in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian security forces have been battling the separatist forces.

The two sides are currently under a shaky cease-fire extended by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on June 27 by 72 hours.

It is due to expire on June 30 and some separatist leaders have said the rebels will also abide by it.

But there have been dozens of violations of the weeklong cease-fire, including the killing of three Ukrainian soldiers at a checkpoint near the city of Slovyansk, scene of much of the fighting in the past 10 weeks.

There were also reports of dead and injured among the separatist in various clashes with Ukrainian forces in the Luhansk region.

Fighting was also reported in the city of Kramatorsk, not far from Slovyansk, in the Donetsk region.

But Ukrainian Defense Minister Mykhaylo Koval said although there had been fighting, the situation was still "under control."

Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma -- who is holding a series of talks with pro-Russian separatists -- blamed Russia for the Ukraine crisis and current fighting.

"Once Russia understands that peace is better than war; once Russia realizes that you can't turn Donbas region into, say, another Transdniester, then it will find approaches to calm down all these so-called influential leaders," he said, referring to pro-Russian separatists. "Because they are representatives of Russia -- let's put it this way."

The cease-fire is the first step in a 15-point peace plan announced by Poroshenko last week.

Poroshenko said in an interview with the French daily "Le Figaro" that "never again...will the issue of language or culture endanger national unity."

He said that instead of fighting separatists militarily, "we should be fighting for the minds and hearts" of the people in eastern Ukraine.

"We will never succeed in bringing these regions back by force," he added.

Poroshenko said he was committed to "advanced decentralization" for the regions and that the Ukrainian government will pay for all damage done to buildings and infrastructure during the fighting.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov accused the U.S. government of pushing "the Ukrainian leadership toward a confrontational path."

He added that the chances of settling the Ukraine crisis would be higher if only Russia and Europe were involved in trying to settle it.

Russia has until June 30 to ease tensions according to conditions set by the EU or face stiffer sanctions.

EU leaders warned in an ultimatum that punitive measures have been drawn up and could be levied immediately.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, UNIAN, ITAR-TASS, and Interfax
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