International monitors shot at in east Ukraine – OSCE
KIEV, Ukraine (UPDATED) – A convoy of international monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) was shot at by "uniformed personnel" in east Ukraine, the organisation said Thursday, November 20.
The OSCE said that a uniformed man on the back of a flat-bed cargo truck fired two shots in the direction of their vehicles as they were driving on Wednesday afternoon near the government-held town of Mariinka, some 15 kilometres west of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.
"The bullets struck about two meters from the second OSCE vehicle," the statement said.
"Staff travelling in this vehicle heard sharp sounds originating from the road or bullet fragments impacting on their car," the statement said, adding that the convoy then immediately left the area.
The OSCE said it was the first "direct" shot deliberately fired at their observers during the mission.
The incident followed another a day earlier when a warning shot was fired towards an OSCE vehicle from a Ukrainian checkpoint near the frontline hotspot of Debaltseve, a spokesman for the mission said.
The OSCE has teams on the ground in east Ukraine monitoring a nominal ceasefire between government forces and Kremlin-backed rebels that has stopped fighting along much of the frontline but failed to halt bombardments at strategic flashpoints.
A representative of Russia's foreign ministry called Wednesday's shooting incident "outrageous" and called on Ukraine to ensure the security of observers on the ground, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.
A Ukrainian military spokesman said it was a "provocation" by pro-Russia rebels pretending to be Ukrainian forces.
Last week, Russia lashed out at the OSCE for alleged bias after monitors reported seeing convoys of unmarked convoys of military hardware heading through rebel-territory to the frontline.
"We get the impression that its efforts are directed at helping and supporting only one side in the conflict, the official authorities in Kiev," the Russian foreign ministry said.
"Such policies from the mission's leadership undermine trust in its work."
OSCE needs 'safe access'
The OSCE has also come under criticism in Ukraine for allegedly turning a blind eye to claims that Russia is sending troops across the border into its Western neighbour.
The OSCE denies any allegation of bias and called for monitors to be allowed to travel freely around the conflict zone.
"Let me say that I'm particularly proud of our monitors -- they are brave and courageous people but they need safe and unfettered access," chief monitor Ertugrul Apakan said.
Earlier this year, three separate teams of OSCE observers were abducted and held captive for up to a month by pro-Russian rebels before being released following protracted negotiations.
The latest incident comes as sporadic clashes rumbled in the conflict that has claimed over 4,100 lives since April, according to the United Nations. – Rappler.com