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American monitor in Ukraine dies in explosion

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Posted at 7:02 PM, Apr 23, 2017
and last updated 2017-04-23 21:35:47-04

An American paramedic attached to a monitoring patrol in volatile eastern Ukraine was killed in an explosion on Sunday, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said.

The US citizen was part of a patrol of the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission to Ukraine. It is the first time an SMM patrol member has been killed while on duty, OSCE Secretary General Lamberto Zannier said. The group has not released the victim’s identity.

Two other monitors were injured in the incident, when their vehicle was heavily damaged by an explosion in the Luhansk region, near Pryshyb.

The OSCE is investigating the incident.

“This appalling incident underlines the increasingly dangerous security environment the SMM monitors are working in every day,” Zannier said. “All sides are responsible for the safety and security of the OSCE monitors.”

OSCE Principal Deputy Chief Monitor Alexander Hug, said the blast was most likely caused by a mine. The explosion happened at 11.17 a.m. Sunday morning.

The mission was deployed in March 2014 “following a request to the OSCE by Ukraine’s government and a consensus decision by all 57 OSCE participating states.”

“The SMM is an unarmed, civilian mission, present on the ground 24/7 in all regions of Ukraine. Its main tasks are to observe and report in an impartial and objective way on the situation in Ukraine; and to facilitate dialogue among all parties to the crisis,” the OSCE said.

A photo taken on April 23, 2017 shows an OSCE mission patrol vehicle destroyed as a result of an explosion being towed not far from Lugansk, Ukraine.<br /> on April 23, 2017. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said Sunday one of its US monitors in Ukraine died after a patrol vehicle hit a landmine in the Russian-backed separatist east.It marked the first loss for the security body's Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) since Europe's only war broke out more than three years ago. / AFP PHOTO / ALEKSEY FILIPPOV (Photo credit should read ALEKSEY FILIPPOV/AFP/Getty Images)

A photo taken on April 23, 2017 shows an OSCE mission patrol vehicle destroyed as a result of an explosion being towed not far from Lugansk, Ukraine.
on April 23, 2017. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe said Sunday one of its US monitors in Ukraine died after a patrol vehicle hit a landmine in the Russian-backed separatist east.It marked the first loss for the security body’s Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) since Europe’s only war broke out more than three years ago. / AFP PHOTO / ALEKSEY FILIPPOV (Photo credit should read ALEKSEY FILIPPOV/AFP/Getty Images)

The hostilities between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian armed forces in eastern Ukraine has persisted and the crisis has become the bloodiest European conflict since the wars over the former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s.

Austrian Foreign Minister and OSCE Chairperson-in-Office Sebastian Kurz said the “SMM is doing an outstanding job, day by day, to stabilize the crisis in and around Ukraine,” but he said “the mission is too often hampered by threats, by access restrictions, by disinformation or the destruction of its technical means.”

“This is simply unacceptable,” he said.

The US State Department passed along condolences and said it is “shocked and deeply saddened” by the death. It condemned “all acts of hostility and intimidation toward the monitors.”

“This death underscores the increasingly dangerous conditions under which these courageous monitors work, including access restrictions, threats and harassment,” acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

Washington urged Moscow “to use its influence with the separatists to allow the OSCE to conduct a full, transparent, and timely investigation” and “take the first steps toward peace.”

The statement said the monitoring mission has “played a vital role in its role of monitoring the Minsk agreements designed to bring peace to eastern Ukraine.”

“This incident makes clear the need for all sides — and particularly the Russian-led separatist forces — to implement their commitments under the Minsk agreements immediately. This includes a real and durable ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons, and disengagement from the line of contact,” the statement said.