EU leaders join Ukraine-Russia talks amid new clashes

June 29, 2014. EU leaders held talks with the presidents of Ukraine and Russia on Sunday as a truce between government forces and separatists neared its end.

The joint telephone conference, which lasted more than two hours, came after new clashes in the east of the country.

A Ukraine military spokesman says five soldiers were killed in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions at the weekend.

Meanwhile, protesters angered by the ceasefire gathered outside President Poroshenko’s offices in Kiev on Sunday.

The BBC’s David Stern in Kiev says Mr Poroshenko is coming under increased pressure to resume military operations against the rebels.

One demonstrator told Reuters news agency that the temporary truce “didn’t bring any results, except deaths of our soldiers”.

The ceasefire was extended on Friday for three days and is due to end on Monday at 22:00 local time (19:00 GMT).

Some rebel leaders refused to observe the truce and low level attacks have continued over the weekend.

Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksiy Dmytrashkivskiy said five Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and at least 17 wounded in clashes in the east of Ukraine.

He also said pro-Russian rebels had seized an air defence unit in Donetsk and captured six soldiers, although this has not been independently verified.

Elsewhere, there were renewed clashes in the rebel stronghold of Sloviansk with government troops and armed separatists accusing one another firing shells in the city.

Photographs showed a badly damaged apartment block and there were reports of civilian casualties but this has not been confirmed.

EU pressure
President Poroshenko extended the ceasefire in a bid to make some progress on his 15-point peace plan.

The plan involves decentralising power and holding early local and parliamentary elections.

The European Union has threatened to impose more sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin unless he puts pressure on pro-Russia rebels to lay down their arms.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande held their second talks in a week with Mr Poroshenko and the Russian leader on Sunday.

The leaders discussed the importance of the ceasefire and the implementation of the peace plan, a statement (in French) from President Hollande’s office said.

According to the AFP news agency, President Putin used the call to urge Mr Poroshenko to extend the ceasefire “for a longer period”.

Chancellor Merkel warned Russia on Friday the EU was prepared for “drastic measures” if no progress was made on the peace plan.

Her warning came as Mr Poroshenko signed a landmark EU trade pact – an agreement that triggered the recent crisis.

The refusal of Mr Poroshenko’s predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, to sign the EU deal – under pressure from Russia – led to protests in Kiev and his eventual overthrow this year.

Russia then annexed Ukraine’s Crimea region, and separatists in the east declared independence from Ukraine.

More than 420 people have been killed in fighting between pro-Russia rebels and government forces in eastern Ukraine since mid-April, the UN estimates.

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