OSCE says little point expanding Ukraine mission at present

Ukrainian servicemen ride on a tank next to a destroyed building in the village of Peski, near Donetsk, on April 23, 2015 (AFP Photo/Oleksandr Ratushniak)

Vienna (AFP) - The chief OSCE monitor in eastern Ukraine said Thursday there was little point increasing the size of its mission while its access to conflict areas remains restricted, saying the situation remains "fragile".

"Only if the SMM (special monitoring mission) has full access to all parts of eastern Ukraine, including all territories currently not under government control, and all areas along the Ukraine-Russian Federation State border, can (it) make full use of increased personnel resources," Ertugul Apakan said.

"Until such issues are resolved, additional monitors will have little impact on the ability of the SMM to monitor the implementation of the Minsk Package" ceasefire that came into force on February 15, Apakan said in an update to OSCE member states in Vienna.

In March, OSCE members states decided to double the potential size of the SMM to up to 1,000 personnel for all of Ukraine. Currently it numbers 429, 331 of them in the east, and this will rise back up to 500 by mid-May after falling recently, Apakan's report said.

"The ceasefire remains fragile, and the situation for the local population remains precarious. All sides need to exercise maximum restraint and... redouble their efforts towards a political settlement," Apakan told reporters.

Despite a "gradual decrease" in ceasefire violations in most areas since mid-February, there have been "daily exchanges of small arms fire, rocket propelled grenade launchers, heavy machine guns and 82 mm mortars... in areas across the Donetsk region," his report said.

Regarding the withdrawal of heavy weapons agreed in February, the sides "have only partly provided the necessary information," he said.

"Until such time as all sides declare comprehensive information as to precisely which weapons have been withdrawn and where they are located, and allow the SMM unrestricted access... the SMM is unable to verify their withdrawal.".

The United Nations says more than 6,000 people have been killed in the year-long conflict and that more than one million civilians have been displaced.