Ukraine Separatists Offer Prisoner Swap

Pro-Russians in eastern city of Slaviansk willing to exchange detained international observers for comrades jailed by Ukraine authorities.

Pro-Russian masked men stand watch inside the Mariupol town hall in east Ukraine, April 26, 2014
Pro-Russian masked men stand watch inside the Mariupol town hall in east Ukraine, April 26, 2014 Reuters

Separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slaviansk are ready to exchange a group of international observers they are holding for fellow rebels who are in the custody of the Ukrainian authorities, their leader said on Saturday.

Asked about a prisoner exchange, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, de facto mayor of Slaviansk, told reporters: "The Kiev junta has our fellows and comrades therefore, if there is a possibility, we are ready for an exchange."

"They (members of the observer mission) are in alright condition. One of the soldiers suffers from diabetes, but it is not a serious condition, he is on tablets. There is medicine there is food," said Ponomaryov.

"They are being kept in good conditions. There is no physical duress being used because they are all working with our people," he said, without elaborating.

"They were soldiers on our territory without our permission, of course they are prisoners," he said. "We won't know what to do until we determine who they are, what kind of activities, for what purpose they came here."

He said the Russian government had not been in contact with him to discuss the observers' release.

However, Germany's foreign minister said Saturday his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov offered his support in bringing about the observers' release.

At the same time, Lavrov called on the United States to use its influence to release leaders of the "protest movement" in the country's southeast.

A German government source said a negotiating team from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) is on its way to try to secure the observers' release.

Asked if he would meet the negotiators, Ponomaryov said: "I am always in contact with representatives of the OSCE. If they come to us, they would warn me about it. They (separatist militiamen) will let them through our checkpoints. I am always ready to talk to them and to meet them."