Tokyo:  The OSCE renewed its call today for the “immediate and unconditional release” of its officials taken hostage in Ukraine’s restive eastern region, where troops are clashing with pro-Russian forces.

Two groups of observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) — totalling eight international monitors and a Ukrainian interpreter — have been held captive and incommunicado since separatists picked them up, three days apart, in late May.

The abductions came after seven OSCE observers sent to Ukraine by the Vienna-based organisation were held for eight  days by pro-Russian rebels in their stronghold city of Slavyansk and released in early May.

“There are those who remain held hostage for the last three or even more weeks now… and we call for their immediate and unconditional release, as many others have,” Daniel Baer, US Ambassador to the OSCE, told reporters in Tokyo.

He was speaking after attending a two-day OSCE conference hosted by Japan, which discussed the situation in Ukraine, where militants continue to defy the government in Kiev.

While some rebel leaders in Slavyansk have reportedly claimed the observers are in their custody, others say they have no idea where they are.

Cases of arbitrary detention and abductions are on the rise in the areas of eastern Ukraine controlled by pro-Russian rebels, rights activists and the UN have said.

“There continue to be fighters and arms coming across the boarder from Russia to Ukraine in recent days and weeks, and we don’t see any efforts to turn it off” by Russia, Baer said.

“That is what we’ve been encouraging… the Russian government…to take actions to secure border to make sure that arms and materials and people aren’t crossing the border to contribute to the violence in Ukraine,” he said.

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