OSCE tries to secure release of staff held in eastern Ukraine

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ZURICH (Reuters) -The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said on Saturday it was trying to secure the release of a number of Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) staff members who had been detained in eastern Ukraine.

"The OSCE is extremely concerned that a number of SMM national mission members have been deprived of their liberty in Donetsk and Luhansk. The OSCE is using all available channels to facilitate the release of its staff," its media office said in response to a query, giving no more details.

In an address https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/devastation-caused-by-russias-war-uk-statement-to-the-osce--2 to the 157-member body on Friday, Britain's deputy ambassador to the Vienna-based OSCE, Deirdre Brown, criticised Russia for refusing to extend the SMM's mission in Ukraine beyond March.

"And now we have received alarming reports that Russia's proxies in Donbas are threatening Mission staff, equipment and premises and that Russian forces have taken SMM staff members captive," Brown said in the address, which was released by the British government.

The OSCE said in March it had evacuated nearly 500 international mission members from Ukraine.

As of April 1, the SMM has moved to an administrative role to ensure the safety and security of mission members and assets throughout Ukraine, including in areas not under government control, the OSCE media office said on Saturday.

The SMM continued to assist remaining national staff in Ukraine in trying to relocate to safer areas.

"Contacts with national mission members continue on a daily basis, including in order to ascertain their whereabouts and assist them, to the extent possible, should they decide to re-locate," it added.

(Reporting by Michael Shields, Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Timothy Heritage)