Separatist rebels in Ukraine call for uni­lat­eral cease-fire

Baltimore Sun - - WORLD - By Nataliya Vasilyeva

MOSCOW — Separatist lead­ers in eastern Ukraine on Tues­day an­nounced a uni­lat­eral cease-fire start­ing at mid­night Wed­nes­day that could be a ma­jor step in solv­ing the con­flict that has raged for more than two years.

The con­flict be­tween Rus­sian-backed separatist rebels and Ukrainian govern­ment troops has killed more than 9,500 peo­ple since it be­gan in April 2014.

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives of Ukraine, the sep­a­ratists and Rus­sia signed a Fe­bru­ary 2015 Minsk peace deal bro­kered by France and Ger­many, but fre­quent clashes have con­tin­ued to claim lives and po­lit­i­cal pro­vi­sions of the agree­ment have never been im­ple­mented.

Alexan­der Zakharchenko, rebel leader in Donetsk, made the cease-fire an­nounce­ment in a recorded state­ment aired on Rus­sian tele­vi­sion Tues­day, be­rat­ing Kiev for a “lack of will­ing­ness to solve the prob­lem in a peace­ful man­ner.”

Zakharchenko said he has or­dered rebel troops to cease fire at mid­night Wed­nes­day and urged Ukraine to do the same.

Wear­ing a suit in­stead of his nor­mal cam­ou­flage for the tele­vised state­ment, he said the rebels are “fully com­mit­ted to the Minsk agree­ments” and see them as “the only so­lu­tion.”

Igor Plot­nit­sky, leader of the self-pro­claimed part of the Luhansk re­gion, also an­nounced a cease-fire Tues­day.

It’s the first time that the sep­a­ratists, who are widely be­lieved to be con­trolled by Moscow, have come with an idea of a uni­lat­eral ceasefire

At least three govern­ment troops have been killed and 15 wounded in fight­ing in eastern Ukraine in the past 24 hours, of­fi­cials said. One more per­son was re­ported miss­ing.

In Donetsk, the rebel mouth­piece Donetsk News Agency said three of its men were killed.

The an­nounce­ment comes a few hours af­ter Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko said that he ex­pects the par­lia­ment to vote soon on con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments grant­ing more au­ton­omy to Ukrainian prov­inces, in­clud­ing the re­bel­lious eastern re­gions.

“De­cen­tral­iza­tion is a pol­icy that has no al­ter­na­tive,” Poroshenko tweeted Tues­day. “I ex­pect the Verkhovna Rada to sup­port the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments re­gard­ing de­cen­tral­iza­tion.”

Ukraine has blamed Rus­sia for not do­ing enough to get the rebels to re­lin­quish con­trol over parts of the Ukrainian-Rus­sian border while Rus­sia is un­happy that Ukraine still has not adopted the con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments.

On Wed­nes­day, Poroshenko is set to meet with top diplo­mats from France and Ger­many, and also hold sep­a­rate talks with the for­eign min­is­ters of Bri­tain and Poland in what ap­pears to be part of a diplo­matic blitz to dis­cuss the con­flict set­tle­ment.

Be­fore trav­el­ing to Kiev, Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Frank-Wal­ter Stein­meier said that af­ter talk­ing with Ukraine and Rus­sia on Mon­day he be­lieves it is pos­si­ble “to agree now, and with­out pre­con­di­tions, on a durable cease-fire.”

ALEXAN­DER ERMOCHENKO/EPA

Rus­sian-backed separatist rebels train at a shoot­ing range last week near Donetsk, Ukraine. Rebel leader Alexan­der Zakharchenko made a cease-fire ap­peal Tues­day.

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