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Foreign monitors come under ‘targeted’ fire in Ukraine

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Western monitors of Ukraine's tattered truce on Tuesday reported coming under "targeted" fire that has forced them to rethink their future operations in the war-torn former Soviet state.

The Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has been at the heart of global efforts to end a 15-month conflict between Western-backed Kiev and pro-Russian insurgents that has already claimed more than 6,500 lives.

The Cold War-era peace enforcement body reports ceasefire violations and arranges periodic talks aimed at salvaging an often-ignored truce signed in February with the help of the leaders of Germany and France.

But its Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) -- comprising almost 500 members who are predominantly based in the separatist east -- said the number of incidents in which its teams have come under attack has grown markedly since the weekend.

"In the past days the SMM has faced three separate, targeted security incidents in certain locations in the conflict zone," deputy mission chief Alexander Hug told reporters in Kiev.

Alexander Hug (R)  deputy OSCE mission chief  speaks to an Ukrainian serviceman on April 14  2015 in...
Alexander Hug (R), deputy OSCE mission chief, speaks to an Ukrainian serviceman on April 14, 2015 in Berdyanske village
Genya Savilov, AFP/File

"In response to security incidents over past days SMM is reviewing its monitoring operations in certain locations."

Hug said one mission leader suffered a head injury and was flown to Kiev for treatment after being caught in an exchange of heavy gun and sniper fire in a town about 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of the separatists' de facto capital Donetsk.

Monday's incident in Shyrokyne came a day after another team escaped unharmed from a similar breach of the armistice in the Donetsk region town of Shchastya.

- 'Full combat alert' -

The OSCE refused to assign blame for either attack.

Both government troops and the gunmen accuse the other of launching daily attacks that officials said had killed at least three people -- including two civilians -- since Monday evening.

A members of the Donbass Battalion look for pro-Russian separatists at their position in the village...
A members of the Donbass Battalion look for pro-Russian separatists at their position in the village of Shyrokyne, Donetsk region on July 3, 2015
Anatolii Stepanov, AFP/File

Rebel commander Eduard Basurin accused Kiev on Tuesday of "paralysing" the work of the Western monitors.

"We fully guarantee the safety of the SMM observers," he was quoted as saying by Interfax.

But the mission itself accuses the insurgents of limiting its access to some suspected rebel bases and often blocking the passage of its teams.

The Shyrokyne battle is particularly sensitive because Ukrainian forces have refused to give up the village after guerrilla units staged an unexpected retreat from its outskirts earlier this month.

The battered town was once home to 35,000 people who mostly worked in the nearby industrial Sea of Azov port of Mariupol -- the main target of separatist leaders throughout much of the war.

Shyrokyne now straddles a proposed demilitarisation zone whose outlines Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wants to agree with the insurgents by Monday.

A rescue worker tries to locate the body of a woman trapped under the rubble of her house in the vil...
A rescue worker tries to locate the body of a woman trapped under the rubble of her house in the village of Golmovsky near Gorlivka in the Donetsk region after shelling between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists on July 28, 2015
Aleksey Filippov, AFP

The SMM mission would be responsible for monitoring compliance with a mutual troop withdrawal should such a deal be done.

Kiev suggested on Tuesday that the rebels had opened fire to scare off the OSCE because they had no real intention of staging a permanent military equipment retreat.

"We witnessed a cynical violation of the truce agreement by the rebels that saw the OSCE mission come under fire. One of their people was injured," military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said.

"As a result of this provocation, our forces are now on full combat alert."

Kiev and the West accuse Russia of orchestrating and supporting the conflict in retaliation for last year's ouster in Kiev of a Moscow-backed leadership.

Russia denies the charges and accuses the United States and its European allies of fuelling the overthrow of Moscow-friendly governments in former Soviet republics.

Western monitors of Ukraine’s tattered truce on Tuesday reported coming under “targeted” fire that has forced them to rethink their future operations in the war-torn former Soviet state.

The Organization for the Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) has been at the heart of global efforts to end a 15-month conflict between Western-backed Kiev and pro-Russian insurgents that has already claimed more than 6,500 lives.

The Cold War-era peace enforcement body reports ceasefire violations and arranges periodic talks aimed at salvaging an often-ignored truce signed in February with the help of the leaders of Germany and France.

But its Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) — comprising almost 500 members who are predominantly based in the separatist east — said the number of incidents in which its teams have come under attack has grown markedly since the weekend.

“In the past days the SMM has faced three separate, targeted security incidents in certain locations in the conflict zone,” deputy mission chief Alexander Hug told reporters in Kiev.

Alexander Hug (R)  deputy OSCE mission chief  speaks to an Ukrainian serviceman on April 14  2015 in...

Alexander Hug (R), deputy OSCE mission chief, speaks to an Ukrainian serviceman on April 14, 2015 in Berdyanske village
Genya Savilov, AFP/File

“In response to security incidents over past days SMM is reviewing its monitoring operations in certain locations.”

Hug said one mission leader suffered a head injury and was flown to Kiev for treatment after being caught in an exchange of heavy gun and sniper fire in a town about 100 kilometres (60 miles) south of the separatists’ de facto capital Donetsk.

Monday’s incident in Shyrokyne came a day after another team escaped unharmed from a similar breach of the armistice in the Donetsk region town of Shchastya.

– ‘Full combat alert’ –

The OSCE refused to assign blame for either attack.

Both government troops and the gunmen accuse the other of launching daily attacks that officials said had killed at least three people — including two civilians — since Monday evening.

A members of the Donbass Battalion look for pro-Russian separatists at their position in the village...

A members of the Donbass Battalion look for pro-Russian separatists at their position in the village of Shyrokyne, Donetsk region on July 3, 2015
Anatolii Stepanov, AFP/File

Rebel commander Eduard Basurin accused Kiev on Tuesday of “paralysing” the work of the Western monitors.

“We fully guarantee the safety of the SMM observers,” he was quoted as saying by Interfax.

But the mission itself accuses the insurgents of limiting its access to some suspected rebel bases and often blocking the passage of its teams.

The Shyrokyne battle is particularly sensitive because Ukrainian forces have refused to give up the village after guerrilla units staged an unexpected retreat from its outskirts earlier this month.

The battered town was once home to 35,000 people who mostly worked in the nearby industrial Sea of Azov port of Mariupol — the main target of separatist leaders throughout much of the war.

Shyrokyne now straddles a proposed demilitarisation zone whose outlines Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko wants to agree with the insurgents by Monday.

A rescue worker tries to locate the body of a woman trapped under the rubble of her house in the vil...

A rescue worker tries to locate the body of a woman trapped under the rubble of her house in the village of Golmovsky near Gorlivka in the Donetsk region after shelling between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists on July 28, 2015
Aleksey Filippov, AFP

The SMM mission would be responsible for monitoring compliance with a mutual troop withdrawal should such a deal be done.

Kiev suggested on Tuesday that the rebels had opened fire to scare off the OSCE because they had no real intention of staging a permanent military equipment retreat.

“We witnessed a cynical violation of the truce agreement by the rebels that saw the OSCE mission come under fire. One of their people was injured,” military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said.

“As a result of this provocation, our forces are now on full combat alert.”

Kiev and the West accuse Russia of orchestrating and supporting the conflict in retaliation for last year’s ouster in Kiev of a Moscow-backed leadership.

Russia denies the charges and accuses the United States and its European allies of fuelling the overthrow of Moscow-friendly governments in former Soviet republics.

AFP
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