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article imageOSCE head calls for boost to Ukraine observers

By AFP     Jan 12, 2017 in World

The OSCE's observer mission in eastern Ukraine needs to be strengthened by better equipment and the ability to patrol at night, the security body's new rotating chair Austria said on Thursday.

"The observer mission's current problem is that it doesn't have the necessary access, and that the security situation is so bad that it can't do its work properly," Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said.

"If they can have better access and be enabled to patrol at night (and) have better technical equipment, then we can make progress and come closer to a functioning ceasefire," Kurz told the Kurier daily.

However, he played down prospects for an armed OSCE police force, as suggested in some quarters, saying there was currently insufficient support among member states, which include the opposing parties Russia and Ukraine, for such a move.

Speaking at a news conference at the Vienna headquarters of the 57-state Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, Kurz said he planned to travel to Kiev and Moscow soon.

"The situation is difficult... but the parties involved are not satisfied with the status quo, which is a good starting point," Kurz said.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists -- Moscow repeatedly denies supporting the rebels or deploying troops -- and government forces has claimed 10,000 lives since 2014.

Kurz, stressing that he was now speaking in his capacity as Austrian foreign minister and not as OSCE chair, reiterated his call for EU sanctions on Russia to be eased "step by step" in exchange for "each positive development on the ground".

The OSCE currently has around 700 monitors in eastern Ukraine plus local staff, although this can be increased to 1,000. It also has observers at two checkpoints on the Ukraine-Russian border.

Meanwhile, Kurz announced the appointment of Peter Neumann from King's College London as OSCE Special Representative on Countering Violent Radicalisation to look into preventing radicalisation within member states.

"Fighting militarily against IS (Islamic State) in Syria and Iraq is not enough. We have to tackle radicalisation and carry out preventative work in our society to stop more young people being recruited," Kurz told reporters.

He said that an estimated 10,000 people from OSCE countries have left to fight with extremists in Syria and Iraq, posing a "major security risk" if they return.

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