* Axel Schneider among seven observers held in east Ukraine
* Separatists paraded the prisoners at news briefing
* Schneider said his men in good health, want to go home
By Alissa de Carbonnel and Thomas Grove
MOSCOW/SLAVIANSK, Ukraine, April 27 Days before
he was taken prisoner, the German colonel who leads the team of
European observers being held by separatist gunmen in eastern
Ukraine described his technique for working in dangerous
"In a moment when the situation gets tense I back off,"
Colonel Axel Schneider told a Reuters reporter in the Ukrainian
city of Donetsk on Tuesday, when asked about the challenges of
operating near the flashpoint city of Slaviansk.
"I don't wear a helmet, I don't wear a flak vest," he said.
"I am here with my arms open and a smile on my face."
Schneider's approach did not work on Friday, when the bus
carrying him and his seven fellow observers was boarded by
pro-Russian militiamen at a checkpoint on the edge of Slaviansk,
in eastern Ukraine.
On Sunday, after three days being detained on suspicion of
being NATO spies - including one night spent in a cellar -
Schneider and his colleagues were paraded by their captors at a
news conference in Slaviansk's city administration building.
Schneider, wearing a plaid button-down shirt, looked tense
but was calm and deliberate as he said he and his group had not
been harmed and were in good health, and were anxious to go back
to their home countries.
As he spoke, guards in camouflage fatigues and balaclavas,
carrying Kalashnikov rifles walked around the room. Later,
Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier described as
"revolting" the scene of the prisoners being paraded in public.
Schneider said the group came to Slaviansk without weapons
and were there strictly in line with their mandate under the
rules of the Vienna-based Organisation for Security and
Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), to carry out military verification
"We were accommodated in a cellar. We had to set up
conditions for ourselves," said Schneider, describing what
happened after they were seized. "Although it was miserable we
made the best of it."
"Since yesterday we've been in a more comfortable room with
heating. We have daylight, and an air conditioner."
THINKING OF HOME
Schneider, who spoke on behalf of his team and alternated
between his native German and fluent English, told reporters he
had "not been touched," and that there had been no physical
mistreatment of the group.
"All the European officers are in good health and no one is
sick," Schneider said.
"We have no indication when we will be sent home to our
countries," Schneider said. "We wish from the bottom of our
hearts to go back to our nations as soon and as quickly as
Schneider's mission was made up of seven officers seconded
from European militaries and one translator. Four of them were
German, and there was one national each from the Czech Republic,
Denmark, Poland and Sweden.
The Swedish team member was allowed to leave with a
delegation of OSCE negotiators on Sunday. The separatists said
they let him go on the grounds that he had mild diabetes, but
had no immediate plans to free the others.
Before Sunday's news conference, the only glimpse the
outside world had of the detained observers was when the
Slaviansk militia allowed reporters to photograph identification
cards confiscated from them.
Schneider's German military identification card listed his
name, his rank of "Oberst," or colonel, his height at 183 cm
(six feet), his service number and his eye colour.
Contacted by Reuters on Sunday, Germany's defence ministry
declined to give any details on Schneider.
Schneider was featured in a Jan. 28, 2014 article in German
newspaper "Aachener Zeitung" about how the German military had
raised money for a children's charity. In his grey dress
uniform, a smiling Schneider was pictured handing over a cheque
for 2,097.95 euros ($2,900).
The article described him as working for the "Zentrum für
Verifikationsaufgaben," or centre for verification tasks of the
German armed forces, the Bundeswehr.
This centre is located in Geilenkirchen, close to the Dutch
border, and is responsible for the coordination of German
military observers or arms control inspectors.
($1 = 0.7227 Euros)
(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin; Writing by
Christian Lowe; Editing by Peter Graff)