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Ban demands that separatists in Ukraine release OSCE observers

Ban Ki-moon has demanded that separatists in Ukraine release a group of international observers immediately. A Russian diplomat says new sanctions against officials are a return to Cold War practices.

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned separatists' seizure of observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), saying international missions in Ukraine must perform their duties without interference. Ukraine's security service estimates that the separatists have captured about 40 people and locked them in makeshift jails in Slovyansk - including journalists, activists and seven OSCE military observers.

"The Secretary-General strongly condemns the recent capture and detention of OSCE military monitors as well as a number of accompanying Ukrainian staff," a UN statement read. "He urges those responsible for their abduction to release them immediately, unconditionally and unharmed."

The captives come from Germany, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Poland and Sweden. On Monday, Germany called for Russia to help secure the hostages' immediate release.

"We ask the Russian government to act publicly and internally for their release, to distance itself clearly from such acts and to use its influence on pro-Russian perpetrators and forces in eastern Ukraine to secure their release," German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, told reporters on Monday.

Andrey Kelin, Russia's ambassador to the Vienna-based OSCE, called the decision to send monitors to Ukraine "extremely irresponsible." However, he added that the separatists should release the seven European monitors. The separatists did release one Swedish observer for medical reasons on Sunday.

'By nature illegitimate'

After the

US and EU imposed sanctions

Monday on officials and companies linked to President Vladimir Putin, Russia's deputy foreign minister hit back, calling the move illegitimate. The sanctions came after the US and EU accused Russia of not holding up its end of

A Ukraine breakthrough in Geneva

a deal struck in Geneva# to end the separatist standoff in eastern Ukraine.

"We decisively condemn the series of measures that has been announced in an attempt to put sanctions pressure on Moscow," Sergei Ryabkov said Monday in comments posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry's website. "Unilateral extraterritorial sanctions are by nature illegitimate," Ryabkov added.

Not represented at the Geneva talks between Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States were the separatists themselves,

Pro-Russian leader rejects Geneva agreement

who immediately rejected the deal# negotiated ostensibly on their behalf by Russia. Military efforts to dislodge the separatists

have had mixed results

.

On Monday, separatists wounded about a dozen people at a rally for national unity in the eastern city of Donetsk, attacking the group with baseball bats, iron bars and knives.

mkg/rc (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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