Ukraine contact group meets on neutral territory in Belarus

31st July 2014, Comments 0 comments

Representatives of Ukraine, Russia and the OSCE met in Minsk on Thursday for the first gathering of the so-called trilateral Contact Group on neutral territory.

Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko, who organised the meeting at the request of Ukraine, pledged he would do everything to help advance efforts to end the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.

"We will together with you do everything necessary... to somehow lower the intensity of the confrontation in eastern Ukraine," Lukashenko was quoted as saying by his press service during a meeting with former president Leonid Kuchma, who is representing Ukraine.

Russia's ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov and a representative of the OSCE -- which is leading the international monitoring mission in Ukraine -- also attended the first meeting of the group outside the country.

According to Russian media, representatives of pro-Kremlin separatists who are fighting government forces in eastern Ukraine could join the talks on Friday.

Separatist leaders have said they would be willing to attend but have demanded that Kiev withdraw its troops from their territory as a first condition.

Russian news agency ITAR-TASS also reported that the separitists want to discuss a prisoner exchange.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked Belarus on Tuesday to host the talks to discuss access to the Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash site in eastern Ukraine.

International investigators arrived at the site Thursday after Kiev announced a surprise one-day halt to its offensive, but explosions rang out nearby in a reminder that of fragile security situation in the area.

Clashes in the area have prevented investigators trying to determine the reason why the Boeing 777 crashed on July 17 with 298 people on board and recover unaccounted for remains.

The last meeting of the Contact Group was on July 17 in Kiev in which they held a video conference with the separatists in a bid to secure safe access to the crash area.

© 2014 AFP

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