Ukraine cease-fire in peril; Merkel urges Putin to respect it

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KIEV, Ukraine — Six civilians and an unknown number of fighters were killed in artillery barrages in violation of a 10-day-old cease-fire in Ukraine, spokesmen for both government and pro-Russia separatist forces said Monday in accusing each other of waging the attacks.

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Heavy shelling of suburban neighborhoods of Donetsk, a separatist stronghold, was witnessed by monitors of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the group reported Sunday.

A statement on the website of the separatist-declared Donetsk People’s Republic said six civilians were killed Sunday and at least 15 wounded. The OSCE monitors reported seeing the body of one woman sprawled on the street.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Russian President Vladimir Putin to urge him to respect the cease-fire and remove any Russian forces from the territory of his sovereign neighbor, according to German government spokesman Steffen Seibert.

A Kremlin press service account of the phone conversation made no mention of the cease-fire violations, reporting only that the two leaders discussed “the importance for the parties in the conflict to strictly comply with the cease-fire and effective monitoring of the peace process through the OSCE.” Russian media took scant notice of the artillery firing that Ukrainian officials said hit civilian areas of at least a dozen towns and villages.

OSCE also reported Monday that a convoy of its monitors asked by a Dutch-led international investigative team to inspect the scene of the July 17 Malaysia Airlines crash came under fire while traveling through the Shakhtarsk area, about 40 miles east of Donetsk city.

“The patrol vehicles were damaged by artillery or mortar fire” and the monitors were forced to return to Donetsk in the only usable vehicle, the OSCE report said. The monitors didn’t reach the separatist-held city until early Monday because of numerous diversions ordered by fighters on both sides and the necessity of avoiding roads believed to be mined, the report said.

In Kiev, OSCE spokesman Michael Bociurkiw said the monitors were shaken by their ordeal but unharmed.

“But for the fact that they were in two heavily armored vehicles the consequences of the shelling could have been much more serious,” Bociurkiw said. “It is not our job to say whether the cease-fire works or not but we certainly need to work in more secure conditions to observe and monitor the process.”

Ukrainian army positions in Donetsk and Luhansk regions sustained heavy artillery fire during the previous 24 hours, Col. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the National Security and Defense Council, told reporters in Kiev on Monday.

He also reported that fighting has flared around the Donetsk international airport, one of the few key areas of the region still under government control although it has been closed because of fighting since May.

The separatists, in turn, accused the government of opening fire on their positions around Donetsk, a city of a million residents before the pro-Russia militants began occupying government buildings in late March in hopes of annexing the two eastern regions to the Russian Federation, as occurred with Ukraine’s seized Crimean peninsula in mid-March.

On Monday alone, the Donetsk separatist leadership reported, Ukrainian troops shelled the separatists’ positions at least three times.

“We will stick to our (truce) agreements with Ukraine,” Alexander Zakharchenko, the prime minister of the self-proclaimed entity, told Interfax news agency. “But we will continue to stay ready for any military response action if necessary.”

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 3,000 lives and sent hundreds of thousands fleeing their homes for safer refuge in Russia and Ukraine.

MCT

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