Wednesday 24 January 2018

Belarus will host Ukraine-Russia talks

Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko
Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko

Belarus will host talks between Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE security and rights organisation on the crisis in eastern Ukraine, President Alexander Lukashenko's office has said.

It did not say when the talks would take place but Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked Lukashenko to host them on Thursday and to focus on securing access to the site where a Malaysian airliner was brought down in east Ukraine.

There was no indication pro-Russian separatists fighting Ukraine's army would attend the talks, although Lukashenko's office said "all interested sides" were invited.

The talks are expected to involve Russia's ambassador to Kiev, Mikhail Zurabov, and former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who have met several times since the crisis in Ukraine began but have failed to secure a breakthrough.

The fighting in eastern Ukraine prevented representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reaching the crash site on Tuesday for the third successive day.

Poroshenko also wants the talks to discuss the release of hostages Kiev says are being held by the rebels in east Ukraine, the Ukrainian presidency said in a statement on Facebook.

He appears to have turned to Belarus for help because the former Soviet republic is a Moscow ally but also has a solid relationship with Ukraine.

The regional authorities in Donetsk, one of the regions worst hit by the fighting in east Ukraine, said on Wednesday morning that 19 people had been killed in the past 24 hours.

Kiev's military offensive has forced the rebels out of some areas they held except their strongholds in and around the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk, and fighting has intensified since the deaths of 298 people when the airliner was brought down on July 17.

On Wednesday, rebels stopped an OSCE team en route to the crash site about 10 km (six miles) outside Donetsk because of fighting nearby. It was not immediately clear whether the convoy would be continue towards the crash site later on Tuesday.

The West says the rebels probably shot the plane down by mistake and accuses Russia of arming them. Moscow denies this.


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