40 killed in east Ukraine clashes as Minsk truce talks fail
Iran Press TV
Sun Feb 1, 2015 11:2AM
At least 40 more people have been killed in continued battle between the Ukrainian army and pro-Russia forces as renewed peace talks in Minsk failed to bear fruit.
The new fatality figures came on Saturday as Ukrainian authorities reported the killing of 15 troops and 12 civilians in 24 hours, while the pro-Russia forces reported 13 deaths on their side.
The pro-Russians say they have taken control of the town of Vuhlehirsk and surrounded the city of Debaltseve. Kiev initially denied the announcement.
Pro-Russians claim siege of 8,000 troops
Deputy commander of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, Eduard Basurin, stated in Donetsk that nearly 8,000 Ukrainian soldiers were under siege in and around Debaltseve.
Ukraine's Defense Minister Stepan Poltorak said Saturday that the 15 soldiers were killed and in battle on the "whole line of contact" over a time span of 24 hours.
The Ukrainian defense chief, however, admitted that Debaltseve was "partially controlled" by the pro-Russia forces.
Meanwhile, Ertugrul Apakan, the chief monitor with the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE) mission in Ukraine, censured in a statement the shelling of densely populated civilian areas in eastern Ukraine.
"Yet again, innocent civilians have been impacted by the crisis, and yet again we are seeing more bloodshed," added Apakan, calling on all sides "to prevent further displacement and suffering."
Minsk talks fail amid blame game
The continued fighting and climbing casualty figures came amid the resumption of urgent ceasefire talks in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.
The representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the pro-Russia forces, as well as members of the OSCE participated in the talks with the event ending inconclusively in a blame game between the warring sides.
Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who represented Kiev at the talks, was cited as saying that the negotiations had been "thwarted" by the pro-Russians.
Additionally, representative of the pro-Russian forces, Denis Pushilin, told reporters they were prepared for negotiations, "but not ready for ultimatums from Kiev while shelling by their forces is going on in the background of towns in the Donbass (industrialized eastern Ukraine)."
On September 5, 2014, Kiev and pro-Russia forces agreed on a 12-point peace plan, known as the Minsk Protocol. The truce has been violated on an almost daily basis by both sides.
European Union extends Russia sanctions
EU foreign ministers agreed in a Brussels meeting on January 29 to extend existing sanctions against Russia until September.
In an extraordinary meeting, the ministers also agreed on discussing the inclusion of more names to the list of Russian individuals targeted for EU travel bans and asset freezes.
They did not, however, agree on imposing new economic sanctions on Moscow.
The EU gathering of foreign ministers was announced following last weekend's shelling of the government-held port of Mariupol in Ukraine, leading to the death of at least 30 people. Ukraine blamed the pro-Russians for the attack.
Kiev and its western allies accuse Moscow of involvement in the Ukrainian crisis, but Russia has categorically denied the allegation.
More than 5,000 people have so far been killed and nearly 1.2 million have been displaced since April 2014, after Ukraine's Crimea voted in a referendum to join Russia.
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