Foreign ministers upbeat after meeting on Ukraine conflict

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Berlin (dpa) – The ceasefire in Ukraine has broadly held since September 1, bolstering hopes for further progress in resolving the conflict, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Saturday after meeting with the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine and France in Berlin.

During the three-and-a-half-hour meeting the ministers “made headway in some critical things,” Steinmeier said.

Russia’s Sergei Lavrov spoke of an “important stage” being reached as the countries prepare for a summit of the four nations’ leaders on October 2 in Paris. He added that it is now important that existing agreements also are upheld.

According to Steinmeier, there is a good chance that a concrete agreement will be signed on the withdrawal of weapons from the demarcation line in eastern Ukraine. In addition there was agreement that work could begin on landmine removal.

On the subject of elections there also was perceptible progress in the talks, however, there were still “difficult and contentious questions.”

The Minsk ceasefire agreement, signed in February in the Belarusian capital, is supposed to be fully implemented by the end of the year. The ceasefire, which had previously been broken repeatedly by pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government troops, has held since September 1.

Steinmeier came away from the talks saying they hadne’t made as much progress as he had hoped, but he said the debate had differed from the last time they met.

“The talks this evening showed me that [the meeting] was worth the trouble,” Steinmeier said, adding that all participants were able to see that they want progress.

Before the meeting, which was the seventh of its kind, Steinmeier warned that the ceasefire holding was “no grounds for complacency.”

In addition to Steinmeier and Lavrov, the meeting was attended by Ukraine’s Pavlo Klimkin and Laurent Fabius of France.

The accord calls for the full cessation of hostilities, withdrawal of large-calibre weapons 50 kilometres from the so-called contact line dividing Ukrainian and rebel forces, as well as thorny issues such as granting Ukraine full control of its eastern border with Russia.

Kiev has also pledged to devolve power in eastern Ukraine. However, President Petro Poroshenko has said the government will not recognize local elections in the pro-Russian separatists regions of Donetsk and Luhansk slated for October and November.

Relations between the European Union and Moscow are at their lowest point since the end of the Cold War amid the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where Russia has been criticized for annexing Crimea and accused of aiding the separatists by sending troops and weapons.

Russia denies allegations that it has sent soldiers to fight on behalf of the rebels, but Moscow supports the separatist cause and has said it is using its influence over the rebels to push for peace in the region.

The conflict, which began in April 2014, has killed nearly 8,000 civilians, according to statistics released earlier this month by the UN human rights office.

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