Ukraine urged by French and German leaders to restart talks with separatists

Poroshenko encouraged to seek ‘mutual ceasefire’ and a peace plan

Buildings damaged by a recent shelling are seen in the eastern Ukrainian village of Semenovka yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

Buildings damaged by a recent shelling are seen in the eastern Ukrainian village of Semenovka yesterday. Photograph: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

Thu, Jul 10, 2014, 01:00

German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande urged Ukraine yesterday to recommence talks with separatists to secure a ceasefire.

The two leaders made their plea in a telephone conference with Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko, according to a German spokesman.

“The chancellor expressed her hope that talks of the contact group will finally commence again with participation from the separatists in order to discuss a mutual ceasefire and the implementation of the peace plan,” said Steffen Seibert, Dr Merkel’s spokesman.

The chancellor and president also called on Russia to use its influence over the pro-Russian separatists to halt the flow of weapons and fighters into Ukraine from Russia.

A communique from the Elysee Palace said the two leaders learned from Mr Poroshenko about the current situation in Ukraine after government forces took control of several cities in the southeast of the country.

“They [Hollande and Merkel] noted the importance of achieving rapidly a political settlement based on bilateral agreements on ceasefire, introduction of the mechanism of border monitoring with the participation of the OSCE and release of hostages,” the French statement added.

In the coming days, Dr Merkel and Mr Hollande are expected to hold direct talks on Ukraine with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian government forces warned separatists in the eastern town of Donetsk that a plan had now been put in place to take back the territory they occupy, but defiant rebels reported a steady flow of new recruits ready to fight.

The Ukrainian military pushed the rebels out of their best-fortified stronghold in the town of Slovyansk on Saturday, but they have regrouped for a stand in Donetsk, a city of nearly a million people.

Rebels also still control strategic buildings in Luhansk near the Russian border.

Russian in control

Separatists said on Tuesday that Igor Strelkov, a Russian military officer from Moscow who until the weekend led rebels in Slovyansk, had assumed command of the “defence of Donetsk”.

Mr Poroshenko has ruled out using air strikes and artillery that might endanger civilians and said: “There will be no street fighting in Donetsk.”

However, the government says it has a plan to retake Donetsk and Luhansk and deliver a “nasty surprise” for the rebels. – (Additional reporting Reuters)