Ukraine rebels 'expelled two OSCE monitors'

OSCE observers monitor tanks of Ukrainian forces riding from the front line near the village of Crymske in the Lugansk region on October 5, 2015 (AFP Photo/Aleksander Gayuk)

Kiev (AFP) - Ukraine's pro-Russian insurgents said Monday they had expelled two ceasefire monitors from the separatist Lugansk region, although the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) denied the report.

"It happened last week. We asked two OSCE monitors to leave," a senior official in the self-proclaimed Lugansk People's Republic told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Russian news agencies had earlier quoted the Lugansk rebel government's acting deputy cabinet chief Vasily Nikitin saying that the monitors had "violated the Minsk agreements" signed by the warring sides to end the 18-month war.

But the monitoring mission's deputy chief Alexander Hug said in an emailed statement that "no monitors have been removed from (the) Lugansk region."

The OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) "cannot confirm these allegations. The SMM is not a signatory to the Minsk agreement. The SMM operates in Lugansk under its mandate provided to it by the Permanent Council of the OSCE in March 2014," Hug said.

The Cold War-era security body is responsible for recording the truce deal's implementation and coordinating periodic peace talks between Kiev's pro-Western leaders and both Moscow and the militia command.

The separatist crisis has claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people -- most of them civilians -- and destroyed much of the EU-neighbouring nation's most important eastern infrastructure and industries.

But a nearly two-month lull in fighting has boosted hopes of the bloodshed finally stopping, although no political breakthrough about the rebels' future status appears in sight.