Ukraine ceasefire holding, says OSCE head

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 06, 2015 2:00 PM

By Aija Krutaine

RIGA (Reuters) - The ceasefire in eastern Ukraine is holding and overall hostilities have dropped, the head of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) said on Friday.

"My assessment is that the ceasefire is, all in all, holding, but there are violations," Lamberto Zannier told Reuters in an interview, adding that violations were mainly small arms fire.

"In some cases it is mortars, but it's weapons with small calibres," Zannier said on the sidelines of an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Riga. "So we don’t see violations in terms of use of large artillery systems, and we have seen those being moved."

Russia and Ukraine have agreed to double the number of OSCE observers to 1,000 from 500 to monitor the ceasefire agreed last month in Minsk, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Friday.

Steinmeier said the agreement was reached after a discussion at the Foreign Ministry in Berlin among officials from Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany.

But Zannier said the number of observers was not the real issue.

"My main problem in this moment is not the numbers, it's the access," Zannier said. "If they had more access, I could get more out of them. That is really my challenge."

Zannier said he would like to have more smaller drones to add to the three large ones currently being used to monitor the ceasefire.

Russia denies accusations by Ukraine and Western governments that it has been sending troops and weapons to support separatists in Ukraine's east.

The OSCE mission expires on March 21 but Zannier said that it was likely to be renewed for another year.

"It looks like everybody seems to be comfortable with a long extension, probably one year. That shows that there is support for the operation."

(Writing by Alistair Scrutton; Editing by Catherine Evans)