Ukraine truce holds despite flashpoint town shelling

2015-02-16 10:55
A tank crew drives past displaying the Ukrainian flag near the eastern Ukrainian town of Luganske in the Donetsk region. (Volodymyr Shuvayev, AFP)

A tank crew drives past displaying the Ukrainian flag near the eastern Ukrainian town of Luganske in the Donetsk region. (Volodymyr Shuvayev, AFP)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

Yenakieve - Shelling and mortar fire thundered around a flashpoint town in east Ukraine town on Sunday despite a new, shaky ceasefire largely observed along the rest of the frontline separating Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists.

Sporadic bombardments targeting the key railway hub of Debaltseve - where thousands of Ukrainian soldiers are mostly surrounded by the rebels - were audible from kilometres away, but they were far less intense than before the truce came into effect at 22:00 on Saturday.

Ukraine's military said that across the entire conflict zone, its soldiers' positions had come under fire from the rebels 60 times on Sunday. Debaltseve, it said, was "the main hotspot".

The pro-Russian insurgents "shot using every kind of weapon, including Grad [multiple] rockets", military spokesperson Anatoliy Stelmakh told AFP.

His assertion was backed up by observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), who are mandated to monitor the truce.

The separatists said the ceasefire was largely holding, but accused the other side of occasional breaches.

OSCE representatives added that rebels have blocked their access to Debaltseve, which they will try again to reach on Monday.

AFP journalists near Debaltseve heard fire from big artillery guns, mortars, machine guns and snipers throughout the day. They were unable to get into the town itself because of the hostilities.

"There was firing all night and all day," said a rebel commander, Oleg, at an insurgent base in an abandoned mine near Debaltseve. Around him tanks were stationed in firing positions.

"The ceasefire is just to organise a rotation resupply of the troops," he said, as heavy weapons and small arms fire kept up a racket of detonations.

"We're just waiting for the order to launch the assault on the town, which will no doubt happen in a few days," Oleg added.

Truce 'threatened'

The truce is meant to be the first step of a peace plan aimed at ending 10 months of conflict that have claimed more than 5 480 lives.

The next phase is scheduled to see both sides pull their heavy weaponry back from the frontline within 48 hours of the ceasefire coming into effect. Theoretically, that would be from 2200 GMT Monday if the truce is deemed to be fully in force.

A prisoner exchange would then be made, and Kiev is afterwards meant to start retaking control from the rebels over its 400km border with Russia, following local elections in the east by the end of the year and negotiations over greater autonomy for separatist-held territories.

But there is little trust on all sides, with a high degree of scepticism after the collapse of a similar ceasefire agreed in September.

In Paris, French President Francois Hollande declared that observance of the ceasefire was "generally satisfactory" despite some "local incidents".

Hollande - who along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel had helped mediate the ceasefire agreed on Thursday - was speaking after a four-way telephone conversation with Merkel and the leaders of Ukraine and Russia.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko emphasised in the call that the ceasefire should be implemented all along the frontline, "including the area of Debaltseve", according to a statement from his office.

Poroshenko has warned the truce was "threatened" by the separatist action in Debaltseve, seen as the weak link in the ceasefire, while rebels have warned any attempt to move the 5 000 government troops they claim to have cornered there would be countered.

International pressure

International pressure is high on both sides to stick to the latest deal and prevent an escalation of the worst East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War.

Washington and Kiev accuse Moscow of fuelling last-gasp fighting that occurred just ahead of Saturday's ceasefire by pouring arms across the border to help rebels grab territory. Moscow denies the claims.

The EU has warned it could toughen its sanctions on Russia if the situation fell apart, while US President Barack Obama has warned he could start supplying arms to Ukraine if the truce collapses.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was said to have reaffirmed his commitment to the peace deal in the call with Merkel and Hollande.

On Sunday, Britain's ambassador to the UN said the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council will engage in more consultations on the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and were not yet ready to adopt a mooted resolution on the truce.

"We are not in a position to vote on a text today, but there is an interest in having a Security Council reaction to the Minsk Agreement," said envoy Mark Lyall Grant.

A spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the ceasefire represented "a desperately needed respite to civilians trapped in the area", but said "serious concerns" remained over the situation in Debaltseve.

Read more on:    un  |  ban ki-moon  |  vladimir putin  |  russia  |  ukraine

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
6 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
Traffic
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.