Three killed as clashes grip Ukraine ahead of talks aimed at end­ing war

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY OLGA SHYLENKO

Ukraine on Sun­day re­ported the death of two sol­diers, while pro-Rus­sian rebels ac­cused Kiev’s forces of killing a civil­ian as fresh clashes pre­ceded peace talks aimed at end­ing the 15-month war.

Kiev mil­i­tary spokesman An­driy Ly­senko said two gov­ern­ment troops were killed and six wounded in mor­tar fire and shelling across swathes of the eastern sep­a­ratist Donetsk province over the past day.

Ly­senko told re­porters that “ac­tiv­ity had es­pe­cially picked up” around the in­dus­trial Sea of Azov port of Mar­i­upol that the rebels have been try­ing to seize to es­tab­lish an ex­port gate­way for the steel and coal mines they now con­trol.

In­sur­gency com­man­der said that shells from Kiev-held po­si­tions around the city of Donetsk had killed a civil­ian and wounded two oth­ers in the rebels’ main strong­hold.

Sep­a­ratist ne­go­tia­tor De­nis Pushilin called the re­ported at­tack “a grave vi­o­la­tion of the Minsk agree­ment” that Rus­sia and Ukraine signed in mid-Fe­bru­ary dur­ing talks in­volv­ing the lead­ers of Ger­many and France.

The four coun­tries’ for­eign min­is­ters are due to meet in Paris on Tues­day to try to sal­vage the ac­cord.

June has wit­nessed an up­surge in vi­o­lence that has killed more than 50 peo­ple af­ter a three­month lull.

Kiev sounded a pes­simistic note about the odds of diplo­mats be­ing able to re­verse that trend.

“Paris must not turn into another blath­er­ing ses­sion,” Ukrainian For­eign Min­ster Pavlo Klimkin said.

“Ei­ther we achieve con­crete re­sults, or we demon­strate clearly that Moscow does not want to ful­fill the Minsk agree­ments,” he said on Satur­day.

Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko will send his per­sonal en­voy to Minsk on Tues­day to meet Pushilin and other rebels for their own round of Euro­pean- me­di­ated talks, af­ter a sim­i­lar meet­ing last week ended in dead­lock.

“With progress like this, the chances of a com­plete po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment of the con­flict are in grave doubt,” Pushilin said.

The t wo pre­dom­i­nantly Rus­sian- speak­ing prov­inces of Lu­gansk and Donetsk have been wag­ing a war for in­de­pen­dence from Kiev’s new pro- Western lead­er­ship since March 2014.

The cam­paign has claimed the lives of around 6,500 peo­ple and driven an es­ti­mated 1.3 mil­lion from their homes.

It has also ex­posed the Krem­lin to Western charges — re­peat­edly de­nied by Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin — of try­ing to in­flict per­ma­nent dam­age on Rus­sia’s ex-Soviet neigh­bor in ret­ri­bu­tion for its sud­den shift to the West.

Com­pet­ing Vi­sion of Truce

Kiev and the in­sur­gents still fail see eye to eye on such ba­sic is­sues as where ex­actly where the Minsk truce line keep­ing apart the two sides runs.

The sep­a­ratists also want to hold quick lo­cal elec­tions that would ce­ment their semi-au­ton­o­mous sta­tus within a uni­fied Ukraine.

But Kiev in­sists that no such vote can be taken un­til Ukraine se­cures full con­trol of the Rus­sian bor­der and “all for­eign armed for­ma­tions” leave the war zone by the end of the year.

The dis­putes cul­mi­nated in a dis­as­trous meet­ing last month in which the Rus­sian en­voy left the room early and the chief Or­ga­ni­za­tion for Se­cu­rity and Co-op­er­a­tion in Europe me­di­a­tor quickly sub­mit­ted her res­ig­na­tion.

The OSCE’s Heidi Tagli­avini at­tended last week’s ne­go­ti­a­tions, but is set to be re­placed by the end of the month.

Kiev is rep­re­sented by for­mer pres­i­dent Leonid Kuchma while Rus­sia has ap­pointed a new Krem­lin en­voy — vet­eran diplo­mat Aza­mat Kul­mukhame­tov, who Ukrainian media be­lieve has adopted a much tougher ap­proach to the West.

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