Top diplomats welcome calm in Ukraine conflict

6th November 2015, Comments 0 comments

Top diplomats hailed progress in halting the bloodshed in eastern Ukraine but called after talks in Berlin Friday for more progress on the political front.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who hosted the meeting with his counterparts from Ukraine, Russia and France, told reporters the two hours of discussions had focused on "how to further shore up the ceasefire" agreed in September between Kiev and pro-Russian forces.

"No one denied the difficulties and the obstacles to a political solution," he said.

"My impression here was that the participants are working to overcome these obstacles."

Steinmeier said a key sticking point remained the withdrawal of heavy weapons, including tanks, artillery and mortars -- a goal he said he hoped be reached by early December.

On the issue of mines, which have claimed scores of victims in the fighting zone, Steinmeier cited the end of November as a target for an accord on their removal.

The September 1 truce deal was unexpectedly signed after a series of broken ceasefires left world leaders scrambling for a way out of a conflict that has killed more than 8,000 people and even further eroded the West's relations with the Kremlin.

The chief monitor for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Ertugrul Apakan, said this week that the ceasefire was "largely holding" but that the situation remains "volatile".

A broader peace deal signed in February in Minsk foresees the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the battlefield and calls for a vote to be held in the separatist regions under international auspices.

Those elections have now been pushed back to early 2016.

Sergei Lavrov of Russia admitted Friday that "the implementation of Minsk will be delayed until next year" but told Russian reporters that he "truly hopes that a (military) escalation can be halted".

© 2015 AFP

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