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The remaining seven international military observers taken captive in eastern Ukraine a week ago have been released.

Five Ukrainian officers captured with the observers, who are linked to the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), were also freed.

Pro-Russian separatists in the town of Sloviansk say they released the OSCE observers “without conditions”.

Kiev has resumed military action against the separatists, with fighting reported in some areas.

Russia, accused by the West of being behind the unrest, says it “no longer has any influence” over the separatists.

Pro-Russian separatists in Sloviansk say they released the OSCE observers without conditions

Pro-Russian separatists in Sloviansk say they released the OSCE observers without conditions (photo Reuters)

Moscow also accused Kiev and the West of responsibility for Friday’s violence in the south-western city of Odessa, which left at least 36 people dead.

Both the OSCE and Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, a leader of the insurgency in the east, confirmed the releases.

“As I promised them, we celebrated my birthday yesterday and they left. As I said, they were my guests,” Vyacheslav Ponomaryov said.

Russia had sent an envoy to negotiate the releases. Vladimir Lukin said he hoped the “voluntary act” by the separatists would be reciprocated by Kiev, adding: “I would very much like military actions to end.”

President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman in Moscow, Dmitry Peskov, said: “From now on Russia essentially has lost its influence over these people because it will be impossible to convince them to lay down arms when there’s a direct threat to their lives.”

One of the observers, German Colonel Axel Schneider, said the team had been treated “as good as possible” in what was a “miserable situation”.

Western leaders had condemned the abductions.

On Friday, President Barack Obama again called for the observers to be released, saying their abduction was “inexcusable” and “disgraceful”.

The observers – four Germans, a Dane, a Pole and a Czech – are not part of the main OSCE monitoring mission, which was agreed after long negotiations by Russia, Ukraine and the US.

Ukraine’s government meanwhile confirmed a second day of military operations in the east.

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One of a team of eight European monitors seized in eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk has been released by pro-Russian separatists.

The officer, a Swede, was freed on medical grounds, it has been confirmed.

The monitors were shown to the media on Sunday – a move described as “revolting” by Germany, the native country of four of the team.

The remaining seven are still being held and diplomacy continues to try to secure their freedom.

There is no word about a number of Ukrainian military officers who were seized along with the group.

In eastern Ukraine, gunmen continue to occupy official buildings in a dozen cities, defying the government in Kiev.

Meanwhile, the US and EU are preparing to unveil new sanctions against Russia, accusing it of destabilizing Ukraine.

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have released one of a team of eight European monitors seized in the flashpoint city of Sloviansk

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine have released one of a team of eight European monitors seized in the flashpoint city of Sloviansk (photo Reuters)

The foreign observers – operating under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) are from Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark and the Czech Republic.

They were shown to the media on Sunday, led into Sloviansk town hall by masked gunmen.

German monitor Colonel Axel Schneider, who spoke for the group, stressed they were not NATO officers – contrary to claims made by the separatists – nor armed fighters, but diplomats in uniforms.

“We are not prisoners of war. We are the guests of [self-declared Sloviansk] Mayor [Vyacheslav)] Ponomaryov, and being treated as such.”

Reporters later saw one of the group – accompanied by two men – get into an OSCE vehicle which then drove away.

A spokeswoman for Vyacheslav Ponomaryov told Reuters the Swedish national who was freed “has a mild form of diabetes and so we decided to let him go”.

Germany strongly criticized the group’s appearance before the media.

“The public parading of the OSCE observers and Ukrainian security forces as prisoners is revolting and blatantly hurts the dignity of the victims,” said a statement (in German) from Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier added that Russia had a duty to “influence” the separatists” so that the other members of the mission can be freed as soon as possible

The monitors who were captured are not part of the main OSCE mission in Ukraine, which Moscow agreed to.

They are from individual OSCE countries, invited to Ukraine by the Kiev government.

Earlier, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov said there was the possibility of exchanging the monitors for militia members held by the Kiev government.

Russia, an OSCE member, has pledged to “take all possible steps” to secure the observers’ release.

Kiev has accused the militia of using the Europeans as a “human shield”.

The West has blamed Moscow for fomenting a secessionist revolt in eastern Ukraine after it annexed Crimea last month. Moscow denies the claim.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Ukraine must end military operations in the east of the country as part of urgent measures to defuse the crisis.

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The United Nations has decided to end its military observer mission in Syria, days before its mandate expired.

A small, civilian office will be set up instead to maintain political contacts.

“The conditions to continue UNSMIS were not filled,” France’s UN ambassador Gerard Araud said after a Security Council meeting.

The United Nations has decided to end its military observer mission in Syria, days before its mandate expired

The United Nations has decided to end its military observer mission in Syria, days before its mandate expired

The UN mission had been part of envoy Kofi Annan’s six-point peace plan. But continued violence made the observers’ mission increasingly difficult.

A bomb exploded close to their hotel in Damascus on Wednesday. The observers’ patrols were suspended in mid-June because of the “significant risk to their lives” and diplomats said the condition for renewing their mandate – a reduction in violence – had not been met.

Russia warned earlier that pulling out of Syria would have “serious negative consequences” for the region.

Moscow’s UN envoy Vitaly Churkin said Russia, which has vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions on Syria, wanted the UN to make an international appeal for the Syrian conflict to end.

Kofi Annan resigned as UN-Arab League envoy to Syria a fortnight ago, complaining of a “clear lack of unity” in the Security Council.

Although the 101 remaining military observers will leave Damascus over the next eight days, a civilian liaison office is due to remain and a new special envoy is expected to be appointed.

Vitaly Churkin said Russia had called for a meeting on Friday of Security Council members as well as representatives from Saudi Arabia and Iran to discuss the crisis.