Germany, France press Ukraine on graft, vote in rebel east

23rd February 2016, Comments 0 comments

Germany and France on Tuesday urged Ukraine to root out corruption and quickly adopt a law on elections in the pro-Russian east that may help end the region's separatist war.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault and his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Kiev in the midst of a bout of political turmoil that has seen ministers in the pro-EU government trade accusations of influence peddling and graft.

The ruling coalition has been breaking at the seams since Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk won a no-confidence vote last Tuesday that came only hours after President Petro Poroshenko urged Yatsenyuk to step down.

The tumult has sparked worry among Ukraine's Western allies that the government may be failing to follow through on the hopes for change of Ukrainians, whose protests brought down the country's Russian-backed leadership in February 2014.

Adding to EU concerns are continued clashes among Ukrainian forces and pro-Moscow insurgents that Kiev and the West accuse Russia of backing -- a charge the Kremlin denies.

"We arrived in Ukraine during a storm. There is much unrest," Steinmeier admitted during a joint press conference with Ayrault and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin.

Both he and Ayrault insisted that Ukraine's leaders needed to set aside their squabbles to put the country on the path to sustainable and peaceful growth.

"We need the economic reforms to be pushed forward," said Steinmeier.

"But it is essential that this policy is based on a principle of zero tolerance for corruption," he stressed.

His French counterpart said the European Union "will continue to support your country".

"However, to be clear, we need for (Ukraine's) policies to be determined, credible and sustainable," Ayrault said.

A report by Fitch Ratings warned Tuesday that the tensions between the president and prime minister "combined with the influence of vested interests and popular opposition, have already delayed reforms and held up" foreign aid.

- Sealing Russian border -

Berlin and Paris have been spearheading Western efforts to end a 22-month revolt in eastern Ukraine that has claimed more than 9,000 lives in the European Union's backyard.

But a peace plan signed one year ago that was meant to find a permanent solution by the end of 2015 has expired with few of its commitments met.

One of those involves Ukraine adopting a law on elections that grants rebel-run regions temporary special status -- a step at which Kiev has balked.

That refusal has fanned daily exchanges of mortar and artillery fire that has already driven more than 1.5 million Ukrainians from their homes across the industrial war zone.

Steinmeier said it was unacceptable "that there are so many violations of the ceasefire and that the electoral law is being postponed" by Ukraine.

Such a law "would be the basis for elections to be organised in the east."

But Ukraine has insisted that it cannot conduct polls in separatist regions under international laws unless its porous border with Russia is secured first.

Poroshenko said Monday he had held talks with Ayrault and Steinmeier on their arrival about the possibility of deploying an international monitoring mission in rebel-held territories -- a proposal stiffly opposed by insurgency leaders.

"The parties discussed an opportunity of deploying an international mission in (the east) as an important precondition for holding local elections under the Ukrainian legislation and the OSCE principles," Poroshenko's official website said.

US President Barack Obama also told Russia's Vladimir Putin on Monday about the importance of "permitting... the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) full access to the conflict area, including the international border."

Ukraine has recently backed off its earlier idea of asking the United Nations to deploy a peacekeeping force in the east because of Russia's likely veto of the plan.

© 2016 AFP

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