Russian separatist militants opened fire Friday on a group of civilian peace monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe in eastern Ukraine, sparking condemnation from the group’s chief monitor and the U.S.
Militants from the Russian-backed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) fired on the OSCE monitors as they were attempting to launch a drone in order to investigate the alleged shelling of the Donetsk water filtration station. After seizing the drone, one of the militants opened fire near the monitors.
“Firing at unarmed civilian monitors is not only a direct threat to the lives of brave men and women doing their best to bring peace to Ukraine, it is a direct challenge to the collective will of the 57 OSCE participating States, and to the Minsk agreements,” said Ertugrul Apakan, chief monitor of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine (SMM), in a statement Friday. “Threatening SMM monitors and otherwise impeding the work of the SMM serves only to delay resolution of the conflict.”
The OSCE was put in charge of monitoring a ceasefire between the Russian militants and Ukraine which began Monday after a surge in violence last month. More than 9,800 people have died since the conflict began in 2014.
The U.S. State Department condemned the attack on the monitors Sunday.
“We call on Russia and the separatist forces it backs to immediately observe the ceasefire, withdraw all heavy weapons, and allow full and unfettered access to the OSCE monitors,” it said in a statement.
Russian support of the DPR rebels reportedly ranges from military aid to direct artillery support. Some Russian forces have even fought on the front lines with the rebels, according to a Vice News report.
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