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European military observers report no mistreatment

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AAA Apr. 27, 2014 8:22 AM ET
European military observers report no mistreatment
By PETER LEONARD

Vacheslav Ponomarev, the self-proclaimed mayor of Slovyansk, right, speaks to a pro-Russian gunman, as two of foreign military observer, one of them Axel Schneider of Germany, center, look to each other during a press conference in city hall, of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, April 27, 2014. As Western governments vowed to impose more sanctions against Russia and its supporters in eastern Ukraine, a group of foreign military observers remained in captivity Saturday accused of being NATO spies by a pro-Russian insurgency. The German-led, eight-member team was traveling under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe when they were detained Friday. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Vacheslav Ponomarev, the self-proclaimed mayor of Slovyansk, right, speaks to a pro-Russian gunman, as two of foreign military observer, one of them Axel Schneider of Germany, center, look to each other during a press conference in city hall, of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, April 27, 2014. As Western governments vowed to impose more sanctions against Russia and its supporters in eastern Ukraine, a group of foreign military observers remained in captivity Saturday accused of being NATO spies by a pro-Russian insurgency. The German-led, eight-member team was traveling under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe when they were detained Friday. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Axel Schneider of Germany, in red 2nd right, of foreign military observers is escorted by pro-Russian militants to attend a press conference in city hall, of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, April 27, 2014. As Western governments vowed to impose more sanctions against Russia and its supporters in eastern Ukraine, a group of foreign military observers remained in captivity Saturday accused of being NATO spies by a pro-Russian insurgency. The German-led, eight-member team was traveling under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe when they were detained Friday. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Vacheslav Ponomarev, the self-proclaimed mayor of Slovyansk, right, speaks to Axel Schneider of Germany, a foreign military observer being held by Ponomarev’s group during a press conference in the city hall of Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, April 27, 2014. As Western governments vowed to impose more sanctions against Russia and its supporters in eastern Ukraine, a group of foreign military observers remained in captivity Sunday accused of being NATO spies by a pro-Russian insurgency. The German-led, eight-member team was traveling under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe when they were detained Friday. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

A pro-Russian gunman escorts a group of foreign military observers ahead of a press conference in the city hall, Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, April 27, 2014. As Western governments vowed to impose more sanctions against Russia and its supporters in eastern Ukraine, a group of foreign military observers remained in captivity Sunday accused of being NATO spies by a pro-Russian insurgency. The German-led, eight-member team was traveling under the auspices of the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe when they were detained Friday. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Ukrainian government troops guard a checkpoint near the village of Dolina, 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Saturday, April 26, 2014. Ukrainian authorities are undertaking a security operation to liberate the nearby city of Slovyansk, which is currently controlled by an armed pro-Russian insurgency. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

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SLOVYANSK, Ukraine (AP) — 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 center of the pro-Russia insurgency. “I can tell you that the word of the mayor is a word of honor. 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 Kiev, 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.

Associated Press

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