Ukraine rebels holding observers say prisoner swop possible

SLAVIANSK, Ukraine (Reuters) - Pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slaviansk are ready to exchange a group of international observers they are holding for fellow rebels who are in the custody of the Ukrainian authorities, their leader said on Saturday.

Asked about a prisoner exchange, Mr Vyacheslav Ponomaryov, de facto mayor of Slaviansk, told reporters: "The Kiev junta has our fellows and comrades therefore, if there is a possibility, we are ready for an exchange."

"They (members of the observer mission) are in alright condition. One of the soldiers suffers from diabetes, but it is not a serious condition, he is on tablets. There is medicine there is food," said Mr Ponomaryov. "They were soldiers on our territory without our permission, of course they are prisoners," he said. "We won't know what to do until we determine who they are, what kind of activities, for what purpose they came here."

He said the Russian government had not been in contact with him to discuss the observers' release.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has dispatched a negotiating team to try to secure the release of the observers, a German government source said on Saturday.

"A negotiating team from the OSCE is on the way to the region," said the source, declining to give further details, including exactly where they were heading.