Ukraine uses one-day truce to test ground for lasting ceasefire

"Day of silence" will aim to see if fighting against Russian-backed separatists can truly be halted

KIEV, Ukraine — A one-day truce announced by Ukraine’s president will serve as a test to see if the fighting in eastern Ukraine against Russian-backed separatists can truly be halted, a military spokesman said Friday.

President Petro Poroshenko’s declaration of a break next Tuesday in the fighting marks a new attempt to revive a September cease-fire deal that has been violated almost daily.

Spokesman Andriy Lysenko said the “day of silence” would demonstrate the degree of co-ordination possible within rebel forces — an apparent reference to reports of schisms among the separatists.

Speaking in Basel, Switzerland, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the truce Tuesday could help build a more lasting peace. Lavrov said it was brokered with the help of Russian military experts at Poroshenko’s invitation and “is linked to create a dividing line between the (warring) parties.”

He also told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that he sees an “increasing” role for OSCE’s special monitoring team in Ukraine.

“We will be in contact with both Ukrainian forces and the rebels to persuade everyone to respect the agreements, as well as everything else that was agreed upon in Minsk,” Lavrov said, referring to the little-respected cease-fire agreement signed in the capital of Belarus in September.

The United States, European Union, Germany and many other Western nations expressed strong criticism of Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict during the intergovernmental security group’s two-day meeting. But the OSCE chairman, Swiss President and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter, told ministers that enough “major differences” remained to prevent the group — which includes Russia — from adopting a consensus statement on Ukraine.

“We need everyone to deliver on the cease-fire,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin told reporters. “And now every day we have 30 or 40 cases of shelling from terrorists breaking the cease-fire. We have human losses and human suffering.”

Separatist rebel leaders have agreed to the truce terms, the Russian news agency Interfax reported Friday.

Despite many initiatives, fighting remains intense in eastern Ukraine. Lysenko said Friday that six Ukrainian soldiers had died in the previous day’s combat. The U.N. says more than 4,300 people have been killed since the conflict began in mid-April.

The deputy of Ukraine’s presidential administration, Valeriy Chaliy, warned Friday that failure to halt the fighting could lead to a humanitarian catastrophe.

“Without a cease-fire, we could simply lose our citizens in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” Chaliy was cited as saying by the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, said Friday the fighting has displaced more than half a million people inside Ukraine and sent hundreds of thousands more into neighbouring countries.

UNHCR also expressed concern over Ukraine’s decision to suspend government services such as pensions to territories under rebel control, saying civilians in rebel-held areas are already facing considerable hardships.

“We are seriously concerned about a deepening humanitarian crisis,” it said.

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