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Ukraine Crisis: Talks Held In Bid To Curb Violence

Ukraine is due to host round-table talks in Kiev as efforts continue to find a negotiated settlement to the crisis in the east of the country.The talks will include members of the interim government and regional leaders, but pro-Russian separatists have refused to take part.

Pro-Russian rebels in Luhansk

The move is part of a “roadmap” drawn up by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation and Europe (OSCE).

On Tuesday, seven Ukrainian soldiers were killed by rebels in the east.

The defence ministry said an armoured personnel carrier was ambushed near the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk region. One rebel was also said to have died in the ensuing gunfight.

Donetsk and the neighbouring region of Luhansk have declared themselves separate from Ukraine after referendums deemed illegal by Kiev, the US and EU.

The OSCE – a security and rights monitoring group drawn from European countries – said on Monday that Russian President Vladimir Putin supported its initiative.

The Vienna-based group named veteran German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger as a moderator for Wednesday’s talks.

However, analysts say it is unclear who will speak for the pro-Russian separatists, who lack a single leader or agreed goals.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, currently visiting Ukraine, said he hoped that Wednesday’s talks would lead to the separatists disarming and would also improve the atmosphere for presidential elections on 25 May.

Speaking in Odessa, he said the situation remained “very threatening” but called for “a national dialogue.”

“I hope this will create the conditions to take a step to bring back occupied territory,” he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking in Berlin, said the more representative the talks were, the better.

However, she added: “Clearly, people are only welcome if they can credibly show that they are prepared to reach their goals without violence.”

The talks come amid escalating violence in the east of Ukraine, where armed separatists continue to occupy key government buildings.

Russia denies fomenting the unrest.

On Monday, pro-Russian activists who declared independence in Donetsk said that all Ukrainian troops in the region would be viewed as occupying forces and should leave.

Devolving power

Their leader, Denis Pushilin, called on Russia to “absorb” the region.

In neighbouring Luhansk region, separatists said a rebel leader narrowly survived an assassination attempt.

Self-declared governor Valery Bolotov was shot and had lost a lot of blood, but his life was not in danger, the press office of the “Luhansk People’s Republic” said.

In an effort to defuse tensions, the Kiev-appointed governor of Donetsk region said on Tuesday that Ukraine was planning a national referendum on devolving power to regions.

Serhiy Taruta described Sunday’s separatist referendums in Donetsk and Luhansk as “an opinion poll”.

Russia annexed Ukraine’s southern autonomous republic of Crimea in March following a controversial referendum.

The Ukrainian government fears a similar outcome in Donetsk, Luhansk and parts of the south.

Nato believes some 40,000 Russian troops are deployed near Ukraine’s border, although Moscow says they have been pulled back.

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