(changes dateline, adds confirmation, further detail)
SLAVIANSK, Ukraine May 3 European military
observers held captive in Slaviansk in eastern Ukraine were
released on Saturday, the town's pro-Russian separatist leader
said, characterising the move as voluntary and made to coincide
with his birthday.
"As I promised them, we celebrated my birthday yesterday and
they left. As I said, they were my guests," Vyacheslav
Ponomaryov said, adding that 12 people had been freed, including
Europeans and Ukrainians.
Eight observers who were in Ukraine under the auspices of
security watchdog the Organization for Security and Cooperation
in Europe (OSCE) were seized last week by separatists who said
they had found a spy with them. They later released one on
It was not clear who else was among those released, but the
group had been accompanied by at least one translator.
Ponomaryov said Russian envoy Vladimir Lukin, who arrived in
eastern Ukraine on Friday, had helped negotiate their release.
"His visit was one of the important factors," he said
Kiev and the West had criticised Moscow for failing to help
with the captives' release, saying Russian officials had not
even condemned the detentions.
(Reporting by Natalia Zinets and Matt Robinson; Writing by
Elizabeth Piper; Editing by Pravin Char)