OSCE chief urges Ukraine rivals to seize 'good chance for peace'
The OSCE chief said Monday a truce was holding in a key village in eastern Ukraine and urged the warring sides to "embrace a good chance for peace" in the region.
"The news this morning is that our people, our monitors have brokered a truce in Shyrokyne, down near Mariupol," OSCE secretary general Lamberto Zannier said.
"And this truce seems to be holding," he told AFP in an interview during a visit to Vilnius.
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe sent a monitoring mission to Ukraine in March 2014.
Close to the strategic port of Mariupol, Shyrokyne has been the latest flashpoint in a year-long conflict that has left more than 6,000 people dead.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Kiev had facilitated the OSCE's presence in Shyrokyne.
"We had negotiations on a 24-hour observation post for the OSCE in Shyrokyne and we hope that it will be achieved in the coming days through joint efforts with our partners," he said, quoted by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.
The Azov Battalion, a pro-Kiev paramilitary operating near Mariupol, also said fighting with pro-Russian rebels had subsided.
"The situation in Shyrokyne village has stabilised a bit," the group said on its webpage, adding that insurgents had pulled back artillery from the village "after the OSCE mission came back to Shyrokyne".
- Minsk II truce -
Zannier said there were still challenges ahead to secure peace but added: "All in all the situation is better than it was few weeks back".
"There is a good chance for peace at this moment and we need to invest as much as we can in this. But there is always a risk of relapse in the conflict."
In February, leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine brokered the so-called Minsk II truce but sporadic fighting has continued since.
"Heavy weapons have been largely withdrawn" from the agreed truce line in the conflict zone, Zannier said, adding that the focus could shift on "withdrawing other categories of smaller weapons because they are still actively used in this violations of the ceasefire".
Zannier said the number of its observers in Ukraine would increase to "at least 600 by the beginning of the summer" from below 500 currently.
He also downplayed Russian claims that the arrival of US paratroopers in Ukraine on a training mission could reignite the conflict.
Zannier was in Vilnius to attended a conference on the role of women in international peace and security.
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite warned that women in eastern Ukraine face unprecedented levels of violence.
"In the occupied parts of Ukraine gender-based violence has reached alarming levels. Women face physical and sexual abuse," she said.
© 2015 AFP