Wed, Dec 10, 2014 - Page 6 News List

Peace talks in Ukraine postponed

‘DAY OF SILENCE’:Fighting in Donetsk halted at dawn yesterday, but rebel commanders said they would not be ready to hold peace talks until Friday

AFP, DONETSK, Ukraine

A Ukrainian artilleryman on Monday carries a shell past spent shell cases at his position near the eastern Ukrainian village Pisky in the Donetsk region.

Photo: AFP

Planned peace talks between Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels were postponed yesterday, but a ceasefire appeared to be largely holding along the front line in the ex-Soviet country’s war-shattered east.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said talks with the insurgents involving Russian and European envoys in the Belarussian capital Minsk had been delayed and would probably not be held until Friday.

“Today, nothing will happen. Consultations are continuing,” a ministry spokesman told reporters.

However, a ceasefire along the bloodied frontline in eastern Ukraine was apparently being respected early yesterday on what the Ukrainian government has dubbed “a day of silence.”

Reporters said fighting in the main rebel-held city of Donetsk had stopped abruptly at dawn after a night of artillery exchanges, with only a single shell heard since then.

“On the initiative of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, a ceasefire regime has been implemented on all positions of [government] forces,” said a statement on the Ukrainian military’s Facebook account yesterday.

One rebel fighter stationed near the contested airport in Donetsk said the situation was “calm for the moment.”

However, his colleagues remained skeptical about the long-term prospects.

“I don’t believe in the ceasefire,” one told reporters. “Up to now, ceasefires have only meant a pause before even fiercer fighting resumes.”

Rebel commanders had earlier said they would not be ready to hold peace talks until later in the week.

“We will take part in the negotiations,” Donetsk separatist co-leader Denis Pushilin told reporters by telephone. “But for them to be more successful, they must take place on Friday.”

The pro-Western Ukrainian leadership needs calm in the east so it can focus on long-delayed economic reforms to dig the country out of effective bankruptcy and open the way for more global aid.

An IMF team was due to arrive in Kiev yesterday to assess Ukraine’s implementation of deeply unpopular austerity measures it has demanded in return for US$17 billion in emergency aid.

Yesterday’s “day of silence” across the warzone is due to be followed by a withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line — should the separatists also put down their guns.

While observers waited to see if a ceasefire emerged, two civilians were reported dead and 10 injured from overnight shelling in Ukrainian areas yesterday.

Ukrainian Minister of Defense Stepan Poltorak said that Kiev’s military forces intended to halt fire yesterday even if the Minsk gathering was delayed for a few days.

“The Ukrainian armed forces are ready for silence,” he said during a joint press appearance with visiting Canadian Minister of National Defense Rob Nicholson on Monday.

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