Ukraine conflict: Minsk peace talks close

Pro-Russian separatist outside Horlivka (14 Dec) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Pro-Russian separatists want the Ukrainian government to end an economic blockade in the east

Talks have been held in Belarus aimed at ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine which has left 4,700 dead.

The meeting in Minsk - involving pro-Moscow rebels, Ukraine, international monitors and Russia - focused on troop withdrawals and aid.

However, the talks ended without any indication of progress. It is uncertain when the next round of talks will be.

A ceasefire and framework peace deal were announced in Minsk in September but neither has been properly observed.

On the eve of the talks, Ukraine's parliament voted to work towards membership of Nato.

Russia's Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov said on Wednesday the move would only complicate matters and he accused Nato members of "trying to turn Ukraine into a front line of confrontation with Russia", state media reported.

However, Nato is unlikely to admit Ukraine as long as the conflict on its territory is unresolved, according to the terms of the alliance's enlargement policy.

Envoys from Ukraine, the pro-Russian separatists, Russia and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) arrived in Minsk late on Wednesday afternoon. Rebel negotiator Denis Pushilin had told Russian media earlier that a second round of talks would take place on Friday.

The talks would focus on withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front line, exchange of prisoners and ending Ukraine's economic blockade of rebel-held areas, he added.

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Amnesty International has accused Ukrainian volunteers of stopping aid to people in the east

However, the government in Kiev has so far refused to discuss resuming benefit payments to Ukrainians in rebel-held areas. The payments were stopped after the rebels staged their own elections on 2 November.

The OSCE, prior to Wednesday's talks, said humanitarian aid would be high on the agenda.

Human rights group Amnesty International has accused Ukrainian volunteer battalions of preventing food and medicine from reaching people in need in the east, and threatening to the humanitarian crisis there worse.

It cited several cases involving the Dnipro-1 and Aidar battalions. Roads were said to have been blocked and aid stopped from entering rebel-held parts of Donetsk and Luhansk.

Since the conflict began in eastern Ukraine in April, 4,707 people have lost their lives, according to the UN. Of that number 1,357 have died since the 5 September ceasefire was agreed.

Separatists took over the two eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk after Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in March. Ukrainian forces and volunteers then mounted a military operation to recover the areas.

The latest attempt at a ceasefire began on 9 December but sporadic violence has continued in both regions.

Ukraine: the human cost

  • 5,200,000 affected by conflict
  • 4,707 people killed including 36 children
  • 10,322 wounded including 102 children
  • 542,080 people displaced inside Ukraine
  • 597,956 refugees and asylum seekers outside Ukraine

Source: United Nations 16 December

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