Ukraine\’s government says that it will press on with an offensive to restore peace and order, as a second team of international monitors has reportedly been detained by pro-Russian gunmen.
Interim Defence Minister Mykhailo Koval said his forces will continue a military offensive against pro-Russian rebels in the country\’s east after a Thursday attack in the region that killed at least 12 servicemen.
Koval said the military will press ahead with their mission until peace and order is restored in the area.
He commented to reporters in Kyiv on Friday, a day after pro-Russian separatists shot down a military helicopter near the flashpoint eastern city of Slovyansk. A general was among those killed.
Koval also said his forces had cleared the southern and western regions of the city of Donetsk of separatists, as well as a northern region of Luhansk.
Dozens of separatists died on Monday in a battle at Donetsk airport.
Russia has again called for Ukraine to stop its military campaign against the pro-Moscow rebels.
U.S. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Thursday\’s attack indicates separatists have access to "to advanced weaponry and other assistance from outside."
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry raised concerns Thursday with his Russian counterpart about the ongoing violence, and about reports of foreign fighters crossing into Ukraine from Russian territory.
Separately, a NATO official Friday said Russia continues to move troops away from its border with Ukraine. In a statement, the unidentified military officer said two-thirds of the troops have pulled back, but that several thousand remain in the area.
U.S. and NATO officials have repeatedly urged Russia to withdraw its troops, saying their presence is raising tensions. There are also reports that fighters are crossing from Russia into Ukraine.
Despite weeks of Kremlin denials, Russia\’s state-controlled news agency Ria Novosti said 33 of the estimated 50 rebel fighters killed Monday in Donetsk in a battle with Ukrainian troops came from Russia.
President-elect Petro Poroshenko has said Ukraine will punish the "bandits" who shot down the helicopter. Among those killed was Maj Gen Serhiy Kulchytskiy, head of combat and special training in Ukraine\’s National Guard.
The leader of the self-declared Donetsk People\’s Republic, Alexander Borodai, told Russia\’s TV Rain that the only condition for negotiations with Kiev was the withdrawal of its troops from the territories of Donetsk and Luhansk.
And he denied any knowledge of the whereabouts of a team of monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), held by separatists. The self-proclaimed mayor of Sloviansk has said they will be freed soon but nothing has been heard of them since Monday.
A second group of observers, based in Luhansk, remains unaccounted for.
Pro-Russian separatists in the regions of Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence after referendums on 11 May, which were not recognised by Kiev or its Western allies.
The rebels took their cue from a disputed referendum in Crimea, which led to Russia\’s annexation of Ukraine\’s southern peninsula.