Ukraine conflict: France hopes to end Russia sanctions

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French President Francois Hollande delivers a speech during his bi-annual press conference at the Elysee presidential palace in ParisImage source, AFP
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Mr Hollande suggested an international meeting this month on Ukraine

French President Francois Hollande has said that following recent ceasefire progress in Ukraine he hopes to see the end of sanctions against Russia.

Mr Hollande has proposed a meeting of the leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine in Paris later this month on the situation in Ukraine.

He said there had been progress in recent weeks in implementing a troubled February peace deal.

But Mr Hollande said several commitments still had to be honoured.

They include holding local elections and implementing decentralisation reforms granting more autonomy to two breakaway pro-Russian areas in the east.

"The process has moved forward. There has been progress in the last few weeks. The ceasefire has almost been respected," Mr Hollande told a news conference in Paris.

The Ukraine talks are to be held ahead of the United Nations' General Assembly, which opens at the end of September.

If local elections are held and decentralisation reform is successful, "then I will ask for sanctions to be lifted," Mr Hollande said, referring to penalties implemented by the EU and US on Russia for backing rebels in Ukraine.

EU sanctions and a subsequent Russian embargo have hurt many French and European companies.

Although a peace deal was agreed in Minsk in February, there was a marked increase in attacks in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk during the summer.

But Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko said on Saturday that over the past week, the peace agreement had for the first time been respected in the east.

"Today is the first week when they have not been firing on the front, the first week when the Minsk agreements have at last begun working," he was quoted as saying by Ukraine's Unian news agency.

Mr Poroshenko is pushing to devolve some powers to the regions despite internal opposition.

As part of the agreement, members of parliament in Kiev took a first step last week towards granting greater autonomy to rebel-held areas.

The Ukrainian government, Western leaders and Nato say there is clear evidence that Russia has helped the rebels with heavy weapons and soldiers. Independent experts echo that accusation. Moscow denies it, insisting that any Russians serving with the rebels are "volunteers".