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  • 25 April 2014, 22:07

Seven Observers 'Seized By Ukraine Rebels'

Seven members of an observer mission in Ukraine have been seized by separatists and are being held, says the Kiev government.

It came as Britain, the US and three other European countries said they were ready to impose extended sanctions on Russia over its behaviour with respect to Ukraine.

The representatives from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe - an independent group which advises countries on governance - were taken in the eastern flashpoint town of Slavyansk, Ukraine's interior ministry said.

Contact with the group stopped at midday on Friday.

A separatist leader in Slavyansk said on Friday afternoon he believes the observers have a "spy" in their group.

Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, told Reuters: "They are with us in Slavyansk. What the situation was I do not know. It was reported to me that among them (the observers) was an employee of Kiev's secret military staff."

The White House said on Friday afternoon that US President Barack Obama and his counterparts from the UK, France, Germany and Italy all felt that Russia had escalated tension in eastern Ukraine.

Pro-Moscow separatists have refused to leave official buildings they have occupied, despite an accord signed in Geneva requiring them to do so.

David Cameron, Barack Obama, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Francois Hollande and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi released a joint statement on Friday, calling on Russia to act.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "While they continued to hold open the door to a diplomatic resolution of this crisis ? the five leaders agreed that in the light of Russia's refusal to support the process, an extension of the current targeted sanctions would need to be implemented."

The joint statement said: "Russia, conforming to the commitments made at Geneva, should contribute to the de-escalation, abstaining from provocative statements or acts of intimidation."

It came as Russia's foreign ministerSergei Lavrov and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier agreed that the OSCE mission should play an active role in efforts to defuse tension in Ukraine.

The German Ministry of Defence confirmed that they had not been able to establish contact with the German-led mission in eastern Ukraine since late morning on Friday.

It said the reasons behind it remained unclear.

The mission, which was described as a military verification exercise, was made up of eight monitors who had been invited to work in eastern Ukraine by the Ukrainian government.

The OSCE confirmed that the group includes four Germans, one Dane, one Pole, one Swede and one Czech.

The Kiev government said a further five members of the Ukrainian armed forces were accompanying them.

The group was tasked with monitoring border areas.

"Negotiations are going on for their release," a ministry statement said.

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