Europe

Ukraine crisis: Ceasefire with rebels holds

Pro-Russian separatist in eastern Ukrainian town of Ilovaysk. 5 Sept 2014 Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Pro-Russia fighters had made advances in recent fighting

A ceasefire agreed by the Ukrainian government and pro-Russia rebels in the east appears to be holding.

There were no reports of fighting overnight, after the deal was struck in Minsk in Belarus on Friday.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko says there should now be talks about a long-term solution to the conflict, which has killed about 2,600 people.

However, the rebels said the ceasefire had not changed their policy of wanting to separate from Ukraine.

The BBC's Richard Galpin in Donetsk says that overnight he had not heard any of the heavy artillery barrages that took place before the truce.

The BBC's Fergal Keane tweeted from Mariupol, further south, that the ceasefire was holding there.

Ukraine's National Guard Commander Stepan Poltorak told the Interfax news agency: "As of this morning there haven't been any violations."

Humanitarian aid

The ceasefire talks, brokered by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), involved former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, leaders of the pro-Russian rebels, and Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov.

The OSCE said it would monitor the ceasefire.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The countryside in eastern Ukraine is littered with the debris of fierce fighting

Both sides pledged to withdraw heavy weapons from the eastern battlefields as soon as possible.

Russia also agreed with Ukraine to restart humanitarian assistance to the eastern region.

"The first batch of humanitarian relief supplies will enter into the Donbass [eastern] region on Saturday," said Mr Kuchma.

"We will develop a more detailed plan from Monday to ensure a humanitarian corridor for steadily delivering relief supplies to Luhansk and Donetsk."

President Poroshenko said the deal was based on a 12-point peace plan that included the release of "hostages", which he said would probably happen on Saturday.

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Media captionPetro Poroshenko: "It is very important that this ceasefire lasts long and that during this ceasefire we continue political dialogue to find peace and stability"

The pro-Russian rebellion began in the eastern cities of Donetsk and Luhansk in April, inspired by Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea weeks before.

Ukrainian forces appeared to have been making gains against the rebels but the pro-Russian fighters have made new advances since late August.

Expanded sanctions

Fighting was reported up until the ceasefire came into force at 15:00 GMT on Friday.

Witnesses said Ukrainian tanks were later seen returning from the front lines outside the southern city of Mariupol.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Many people have seen their homes destroyed in the fighting

The West accuses Russia of sending arms and troops to back the rebels in eastern Ukraine - allegations denied by the Kremlin.

However, even as the ceasefire started, EU ambassadors expanded a list of Russian and pro-Russian individuals targeted by sanctions.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said in a statement on Friday that the EU had expanded the list of persons under an EU asset freeze and travel ban to include the new leadership in eastern Ukraine, the Crimean government and Russian decision-makers and oligarchs.

The sanctions are due to be formally adopted on Monday. But diplomats quoted by Reuters said the measures could be suspended if the ceasefire held and if Moscow withdrew forces from Ukraine.

Earlier, US President Barack Obama said the ceasefire had been agreed because of sanctions imposed on Russia.

He said measures against Russia would be reviewed in line with the implementation of the ceasefire.

The crisis in Ukraine was the focus of a Nato summit over the weekend in which member states agreed to form a multi-national rapid-reaction force.

Nato chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Russia's actions in Ukraine had been a wake-up call for the alliance.

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