Abductions on rise in rebel-held eastern Ukraine

Abductions on rise in rebel-held eastern Ukraine

DONETSK, Ukraine - From international observers and journalists to pro-Ukrainian activists, priests and ordinary citizens, cases of arbitrary detention and abductions are on the rise in the areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels.

"Kidnappings began from the very beginning of the insurgency and today we estimate the number of those being detained illegally at 200," Maria Oliynik, an activist with Ukrainian rights watchdog Prosvita, told AFP.

Those held hostage are usually kept in basements and safe houses guarded by gunmen from the rebel "authorities" of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine - and the United Nations says they can face beatings, torture and even execution.

But after almost two months of bloodshed in the region the situation is chaotic and with rebels splintering into different groups it is sometimes difficult to tell which faction is actually holding the detainees.

For close to a fortnight now two groups of observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - totalling eight international monitors and a Ukrainian interpreter - have been held captive and incommunicado after separatists picked them up, three days apart, in late May.

These latest abductions come after seven OSCE observers sent to Ukraine by the Vienna-based organisation to pacify the region and foster dialogue were held for eight days by pro-Russian rebels in their stronghold city of Slavyansk and released in early May.

But while some rebel leaders in Slavyansk have reportedly claimed the observers are in their custody others say that they have no idea where they are.

"We are searching for these observers, but we are not able to control the whole territory (of the Donetsk region)," Aleksandr Borodai, the "prime minister" of the "People's Republic of Donetsk" and in theory the senior rebel official in the region, told reporters on Saturday.

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