Spain arrests 8 accused of fighting alongside pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine

A pro-Russian rebel walks past a twin-barrelled anti-aircraft gun in the streets of Debaltseve, in the Donetsk area of Ukraine on Feb 21, 2015. Spain on Friday arrested eight citizens who recently returned from fighting alongside pro-Russian rebels i
A pro-Russian rebel walks past a twin-barrelled anti-aircraft gun in the streets of Debaltseve, in the Donetsk area of Ukraine on Feb 21, 2015. Spain on Friday arrested eight citizens who recently returned from fighting alongside pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, the first such arrest in the European Union of foreign citizens involved in the conflict, the Interior Ministry said. -- PHOTO: EPA

MADRID (REUTERS) - Spain on Friday arrested eight citizens who recently returned from fighting alongside pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine, the first such arrest in the European Union of foreign citizens involved in the conflict, the Interior Ministry said.

The eight suspects, identified only by initials, were arrested in a nationwide operation on suspicion of crimes that could compromise the peace and independence of Spain, a ministry statement said.

"The accused travelled to Ukraine during 2014 and have recently returned to Spain. All joined separatist pro-Russian groups fighting for the independence of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions," the statement said.

It said that while in Ukraine, the eight shared information and photos through social media of their training in how to use assault weapons and explosives, while dressed in paramilitary uniforms.

They also expressed support for the secession of the Lugansk and Donetsk regions from Kiev.

The EU formally supports Ukraine's territorial integrity and accused Russia of backing the rebels militarily.

Moscow denies this.

The fighting in Ukraine has killed more than 5,600 people over the last year.

A shaky truce finally took hold on Thursday, 11 days after it was meant to take effect, but three Ukrainian deaths reported on Friday dimmed hopes the new calm would last.