Three killed in Ukraine as lawmakers prepare to debate rebel autonomy

17th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

Three soldiers were killed and five injured in eastern Ukraine, an army spokesman said Tuesday, further undermining a month-old ceasefire between government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Some of the casualties were caused by fire from the rebels, the others occurring when a military vehicle drove over a landmine, spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters.

Lysenko refused to give a more precise account of the various incidents.

The government complains daily of continuing grenade, mortar and small arms fire from the rebels against its positions.

The rebels, who seized control of some parts of eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions last year after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, also accuse the government of ceasefire violations.

Despite the continuing clashes in a handful of flashpoints the February 12 truce has largely held.

With the violence which has killed over 6,000 people now subsiding, the focus has shifted to the political elements of the February peace deal, which require Kiev to surrender a degree of control over rebel-held areas.

Lawmakers in Kiev were due Tuesday to begin examining bills submitted to parliament by the presidency that grant Donetsk and Lugansk special status.

The start of the session was postponed several times amid opposition from some parliamentary groups to giving more autonomy to the breakaway areas.

The draft legislation allows for Russian to be the regions' preferred language and for increased cooperation with Russia -- but only after the separatists hold local elections under Ukrainian law, with international monitoring.

"Ukraine's position is that we will deal with representatives of Donetsk and Lugansk who will be elected legitimately and in accordance with Ukrainian law... in polls that will be recognised by the entire civilised world," President Petro Poroshenko said Tuesday.

"There will not be any other elections in Ukraine."

Russia and the separatists have already slammed the legislation, accusing Poroshenko of failing to consult with the rebel representatives.

Denis Pushilin, a senior rebel representative, was quoted by Russia's RIA Novosti news agency as warning that the adoption of the texts would mark a "point of no return to the Minsk agreement."

Kiev and the West see Russian propaganda as one of the key factors driving the insurgency and accuse Moscow of sending thousands of troops and weapons across the border, allegations Russia denies.

© 2015 AFP

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