By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.orgFour German military observers, who were kidnapped in Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists, are members of a military agency that has intelligence contacts, but are not themselves spies, according to a leading German newspaper. The German observers were abducted along with several other Western military officials on April 25, in the eastern Ukrainian city of Sloviansk. They were participating in a military verification mission organized by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). At the time of the abduction, one pro-Russian separatist leader, Vyacheslav Ponomarev, said his group had decided to detain the OSCE monitors due to “credible information” that they were spies for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The OSCE strongly denied the accusation that its monitors were intelligence operatives, saying that the kidnappers’ claims were aimed at damaging the reputation of the organization. With nearly 60 signatories to its charter, the OSCE has operated since 1975 with the aim of securing peace across the European continent. It regularly supplies military observers to investigate what it terms “uncommon military operations” in nations that formally invite their presence, as Ukraine did last month. On Monday, German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung said that, although the four German OSCE observers are not employees of German intelligence agencies, they do maintain “certain connections” with Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service, known as Bundesnachrichtendienst, or BND. The Munich-based broadsheet claimed that the inspectors, who had been given diplomatic status during their deployment in Ukraine, are not members of staff at the BND or MAD, Germany’s Military Counterintelligence Service. However, they are employed at the Verification Center of the Bundeswehr —Germany’s federal armed forces. The mission of the Center, which is based in the town of Geilenkirchen, in Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia, is to verify compliance with weapons control agreements signed between Germany and other countries. The paper said that the Center works closely with the BND, which also maintains a branch in Geilenkirchen. The article also stated that the BND regularly provides briefings for the Center’s observers, who are often employed in OSCE-authorized monitoring missions. The intelligence agency provides observers with information about the security situation in host countries, as well as intelligence about the location of targeted military facilities. The OSCE observers were freed on May 3, after more than a week in captivity, and have been flown to their respective countries of origin.