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Talks on resolving Ukraine crisis begin in Minsk

Soldiers of Ukrainian self-defence battalion Azov take a break at a check point on a road in the eastern Ukrainian city of Mariupol Ukraine, 05 September 2014

Representatives of Ukraine, the pro-Russian separatist leadership, Russia and the OSCE security watchdog began talks on Friday on resolving the Ukraine conflict.

Most participants declined to comment to reporters as they arrived for the talks in the Belarussian capital, Minsk, but former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said: “We all came for peace, that’s the most important thing – to find a truce.”

President Petro Poroshenko said on Thursday he would announce a ceasefire if the talks took place although there was no immediate ceasefire announcement.

News that the talks on securing a ceasefire had started pushed Moscow shares up.

Fighting began in eastern Ukraine in mid-April and more than 2,600 people have been killed in a crisis that has caused the biggest strains in Moscow’s relations with the West since the Cold war ended.

A ceasefire agreed in June ended after 10 days because fighting did not stop, but officials were hopeful any new agreement could trigger steps to secure a more lasting peace after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Poroshenko gave it their backing.

The two leaders spoke this week by telephone and said they had reached a level of agreement over a ceasefire, a change of position for Poroshenko whose troops have been beaten back by a resurgent rebel force the West says is supported by Russia. Moscow denies arming the rebels or sending in Russian troops.

Putin also offered a seven-point peace plan which would leave rebels in control of territory that accounts for about one tenth of Ukraine’s population and an even larger share of its industry. It would also require Ukraine to remain unaligned.

The rebels said they would also agree as part of the ceasefire to allow a humanitarian corridor for aid and refugees. The truce would be monitored by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

However Ukrainian forces battling pro-Russian separatists near the port of Mariupol in eastern Ukraine have not received any ceasefire orders, a Ukrainian officer told Reuters on Friday, despite the start of the peace talks in Minsk.

“Our operations are continuing as scheduled until further orders,” the officer in Mariupol said.

A Reuters journalist saw a number of Ukrainian armoured personnel carriers moving forward towards rebel positions east of Mariupol, a strategic port city halfway between the Russian border and the Russian-annexed region of Crimea.

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