Swiss ICRC worker killed in Donetsk

Debris seen at ICRC office after shelling in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine Keystone
This content was published on October 3, 2014 - 17:34
swissinfo.ch and agencies

A Swiss ICRC worker has been killed in shelling in the rebel-held Ukrainian city of Donetsk. Ukraine and Russia blame each other for the incident.

The Swiss-run International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed in statement on Thursday that Laurent DuPasquier, 38, who had been working as an administrator in the organization’s office in the Donetsk, was killed when a shell landed near the premises.

“We are deeply shocked by this tragic loss," said ICRC Director of Operations Dominik Stillhart. “We understand that there were other civilian casualties in Donetsk today. Indiscriminate shelling of residential areas is unacceptable and violates international humanitarian law.”

DuPasquier worked for the ICRC for more than five years, carrying out assignments in Pakistan, Yemen, Haiti, Egypt and Papua New Guinea. He started his posting in Ukraine six weeks ago. 

On Friday, the Ukrainian foreign minister referred to the incident as "an act of terrorism that cannot be justified." He also said that it was comparable with the kidnapping of OSCE representatives in May in the east of country and was meant to intimidate international organisation representatives seeking to bring peace to Donbass. "The culprits of this crime will be punished," the minister concluded.

Responding to the accusations from Ukraine, the Russia foreign minister blamed Ukraine for the death of the ICRC worker. He indicated that the part of Donetsk that was shelled was under the control of pro-Russian rebels and the shelling originated from positions occupied by Ukrainian forces.

Swiss reaction

Swiss President and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, who also holds the presidency of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), said on Thursday that he was dismayed and distressed by the news of the humanitarian worker's death. He extended his condolences to the victim's family and to the ICRC.

He referred to the ICRC worker again during his opening address to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly on Friday, which is meeting in Geneva for its autumn session. He said the delegate stood for the essence of Switzerland: humanitarian support and assistance to those in need. Burkhalter said he would like to speak for him and for all innocent victims of the Ukraine conflict.

He said that de-escalating the situation in Ukraine remained a top priority for the OSCE and called on all parties to work towards this. Dialogue remained key to stablising the situation, Burkhalter continued, and offered Switzerland as a location for any potential meeting between the leaders of Ukraine and Russia.

First shelling since ceasefire

The ICRC offices were hit in the first shelling of Donetsk city centre since the ceasefire signed by Ukraine, Russia and the separatists in Minsk on September 5.

The ICRC has played an active role in Ukraine since the conflict in the east of the country began.

According to the most recent information published by the ICRC, the organisation has more than 50 staff in the country, with a delegation in Kiev, offices in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Odessa and sub-offices in Starobilsk and Mariupol.

On Wednesday, shelling in the suburbs of Donetsk close to the airport killed ten civilians. The airport, controlled by the Ukrainian army, has been under rebel attack since the beginning of the week.

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