Donetsk: The pro-Russian "prime minister" of the self-declared Republic of Donetsk said Thursday he had no information on the whereabouts of four OSCE observers missing in eastern Ukraine.
His statement added to the confusion surrounding the fate of the monitoring team. Another self-proclaimed leader in Slavyansk said his forces were holding them while an OSCE source has also said they were arrested in Lugansk.
"We don`t have any information on this subject. We do not know where they are and we are looking for them," said Donetsk strongman Alexander Borodai.
"It is possible that it is a provocation aiming to accuse us falsely of detaining them," he added.
But earlier Thursday the leader of pro-Moscow insurgents in the eastern city of Slavyansk confirmed that his forces had detained the four civilian observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, suggesting they could be involved in espionage.
"No one arrested them. We detained them. Now we will work out who they are, where they were going and why, and we will let them go," said Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, the self-proclaimed "people`s mayor" of Slavyansk, in comments to the Interfax news agency.
According to an OSCE source who requested anonymity, the four -- a Dane, an Estonian, a Turk and a Swiss national -- were detained in Lugansk, a neighbouring region of Donetsk.
When asked about Ponomaryov`s comments, Borodai replied that the "mayor" of Slavyansk had a tendency "to exaggerate things".
The Ukrainian authorities had already said Wednesday that the four observers had been seized by pro-Russian rebels.
A second group of 11 observers was detained in the same region of Donetsk on Wednesday but the OSCE later said it had managed to re-establish contact with them.
Swiss President and OSCE chief Didier Burkhalter on Wednesday slammed the detention of observers as "acts of sabotage".
In a statement, Burkhalter called for their "immediate and unconditional release."