Ukraine seeks EU help as shelling blazes in east
Ukraine pressed European leaders Monday to send peacekeepers to stabilise the war-torn east, as monitors reported a surge in shelling near a strategic government-held city.
Top European Union officials landed in Kiev for a key summit with the former Soviet state as it faces off against separatists in the east, whom its Western allies accuse Russia of backing.
The EU leaders pressured Ukraine's government to speed up anti-corruption reforms to clean up Ukrainian politics and business in return for closer ties with the bloc.
"You have a powerful enemy, but you also have a lot of friends. You can count on their help, but it will not be enough unless you yourself change Ukraine," said EU president Donald Tusk.
Ukraine's pro-Western President Petro Poroshenko says the country first needs more help to stabilise the industrial east, where separatists have seized partial control of two regions and shelling is rumbling on despite a February ceasefire.
Observers with the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) near the flashpoint town of Shyrokyne said they had witnessed "the most intense shelling" since fighting began there in mid-February, as well as movement of heavy weapons.
Ahead of the summit Poroshenko called on EU leaders to "provide powerful signals in support of Ukraine and its European integration".
His office said it had "agreed to continue coordination" with EU officials on the possibility of a peacekeeping force.
An EU official said ahead of the summit: "We are studying these proposals in detail." But he added that the EU saw "no reason" to replace the OSCE monitors.
The official said the EU will stand up for Ukraine's territorial sovereignty and aims to see Kiev regain full control of its eastern border in 2015.
- Anti-corruption reforms -
Poroshenko joined hands in front of the cameras with Tusk and the European Commission's top executive Jean-Claude Juncker before a series of closed-door talks.
The three were scheduled to give a news conference at 1315 GMT.
The top commissioner for EU enlargement negotiations, Johannes Hahn, meanwhile met Ukraine's Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko to discuss financial and administrative reforms, Hahn said in a Twitter message.
After the EU meetings, Poroshenko was to meet other international officials on Tuesday at a conference to showcase Ukraine's reforms and lure much-needed investment.
Among measures taken in recent months, Kiev has launched a new anti-corruption body and passed laws to clean up its banks.
"The new Ukraine is determined to live up to its obligations," Poroshenko wrote in a comment piece in the Guardian newspaper last week.
"Ukraine will push forward on its path to the European Union in spite of the many obstacles."
- 'Intense' shelling -
The conflict between government troops and pro-Russian rebels has killed more than 6,000 people in the past year and displaced more than a million, according to the United Nations.
In Shyrokyne, the OSCE throughout Sunday "observed sporadic to continuous exchanges of fire involving small arms, machine gun, rocket propelled grenade and automatic grenade launcher," it said in a statement.
Shyrokyne lies a few kilometres (miles) from the port of Mariupol, the biggest city still under government control in the conflict zone.
Many Ukrainians fear Mariupol could face a new offensive by separatists after commemorations of Russia's victory in World War II on May 9 are out of the way, or come under attack during public holidays in early May.
"The Ukrainian security services are examining this situation carefully. They are ready to immediately react to any provocation and respond to any act of terrorism," Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk told reporters on Monday.
He said one soldier had been killed on the Ukrainian government side and three injured at the front in the past day.
© 2015 AFP