Special OSCE mission enters Debaltseve, Ukraine

Special OSCE mission enters Debaltseve, Ukraine

HomeEuropeMore Sun Feb 22, 2015 1:42AM

A special monitoring mission (SSM) of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has entered the war-torn east Ukrainian town of Debaltseve.

The mission’s spokesman, Michael Bociurkiw, said they entered the town on Saturday after receiving security guarantees from pro-Russia forces in the city.

“I would like to say that SMM continues urging adherence to the ceasefire across the entire territory [of southeast Ukraine] and allow SMM access to all territories, because we do not yet have access to all areas,” Bociurkiw said.

OSCE observers have been sent to eastern Ukraine since March 2014, where they consistently monitor the situation of the conflict stricken region.

Prisoner swap

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian government and pro-Russia forces have exchanged prisoners in accordance to the terms of the ceasefire agreement inked in Minsk, Belarus.

A total of 139 Ukrainian troops and 52 pro-Russians were freed during the swap late on Saturday.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko confirmed the exchange which was carried out near the remote front-line town of Zholobok.

A busload of Ukrainian soldiers was transported from the main stronghold of pro-Russian forces in Donetsk to a rural area, located some 140 kilometers to the northeast.

Reports say some of the Ukrainian troops were wounded and had to walk for kilometers on crutches.

Poroshenko’s spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, said another Ukrainian soldier would be released in the coming days.

According to pro-Russian sources, most of the prisoners who were traded had been captured in the recent deadly clashes between the two sides in the eastern strategic town of Debaltseve. The town was taken over by the pro-Moscow forces last week.

Pro-Russians in Donetsk say Kiev is currently holding about 580 of their forces.

The exchange was seen as the first sign of cooperation between the two sides since the much-violated ceasefire deal was signed earlier this month.

During peace talks in the Belarusian capital city of Minsk on February 11-12, the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine agreed on the withdrawal of heavy weapons from Ukraine’s front lines and a ceasefire, which officially went into effect at 2200 GMT on February 14.

The two sides, however, have continued to engage in sporadic clashes.

The two mainly Russian-speaking regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine have been the scene of deadly clashes between pro-Russia protesters and the Ukrainian army since Kiev’s military operation started in April 2014 in a bid to crush the protests.

Some 5,700 people have been killed since the fighting began in east Ukraine and a further 1.5 million have been forced to leave their homes, the UN says.

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