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American monitor killed in Ukraine when mine blasts vehicle

Associated Press logo Associated Press 24/04/2017

MOSCOW — A land mine blew up a vehicle carrying an OSCE monitoring team in the separatist Luhansk region of eastern Ukraine on Sunday, killing an American observer and wounding two European members of the mission, officials reported.

The mission's deputy head, Alexander Hug, said the member killed was from the U.S. and the two wounded are from Germany and the Czech Republic.

Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, who holds the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, called for an investigation into the blast and said on Twitter that "those responsible will be held accountable."

In Washington, the State Department expressed shock and sadness and extended condolences to family and friends of the victim, who was not identified in the statement.

Spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. "again calls upon Russia to use its influence with the separatists to take the first step toward peace to eastern Ukraine and ensure a visible, verifiable and irreversible improvement in the security situation."

"This death underscores the increasingly dangerous conditions under which these courageous monitors work, including access restrictions, threats and harassment. The United States urges Russia to use its influence with the separatists to allow the OSCE to conduct a full, transparent and timely investigation," Toner added.

In a separate statement, the State Department said U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson phoned Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to discuss his recent trip to Moscow and his message to Russian officials that Moscow's actions in eastern Ukraine remain an obstacle to improved relations with the U.S.

Tillerson accepted Poroshenko's condolences on the OSCE observer's death and the two leaders agreed that "this tragic incident makes clear the need for all sides — and particularly the Russian-led separatist forces — to implement their commitments under the Minsk Agreements immediately," the statement said.

The self-proclaimed security ministry for the Russia-backed separatist rebels in Luhansk said the mine had been laid by Ukrainian forces. The rebels and the Ukrainian government have been fighting in eastern Ukraine since 2014 in a war that has killed more than 9,900 people.

The monitoring mission assesses compliance with the 2-year-old Minsk peace deal that was to bring a cease-fire and heavy weapons pullback to the region. It also conducts work on human rights and civil society issues as well as mine-awareness programs.

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