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    Progress made at Minsk Summit – officials
    February 12, 2015, 3:16 am

    Russian and Ukrainian officials have said the talks have been long and hard, but voiced cautious optimism that a deal could be reached in a few hours [Xinhua]

    Russian and Ukrainian officials have said the talks have been long and hard, but voiced cautious optimism that a deal could be reached in a few hours [Xinhua]

    The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine continued their crucial peace summit well past midnight in Minsk, Belorusia even as pro-Moscow rebels exchanged artillery fire with Kiev’s forces in a bid to win and consolidate territory.

    The negotiations at the summit, which entered their 12th hour a short time ago, have been difficult as Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko seeks a demarcation of territory based on an earlier agreement signed in Minsk in September.

    The pro-Russian factions say that is no longer feasible and want acknowledgement of the territory they have seized in the past few weeks.

    Although chances of a breakthrough in the talks first appeared slim, a member of the Ukrainian delegation to Minsk told Reuters that the four delegations were preparing to sign a document acknowledging his country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, and that a secondary document reiterating the September ceasefire plan was also likely to be accepted by the negotiating teams.

    A member of the Russian delegation also voiced optimism in remarks made to Reuters.

    The leaders and their delegations have been in negotiations since Russian President Vladimir Putin and Poroshenko shook hands at the beginning of the summit.

    The delegations have also been discussing establishing a buffer zone – first proposed by French President Francois Hollande last month – with additional caveats that heavy artillery be removed far from the demarcation lines.

    Poroshenko went into the talks saying this was a last chance for peace in Europe. A few hours later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said there was notable progress.

    But sticking points remain. Ukraine wants Russia to stop sending men and materiel over the border into rebel-held territory.

    Russia says it has not been supplying the rebels.

    In the meantime, Moscow wants to see autonomy granted to the rebels in the east of the country.

    Monkey wrench?

    The talks have taken on a sense of urgency particularly since Washington hinted last week that it was considering arming the Ukrainian military.

    Russian officials have said that would amount to a declaration of war, and European analysts warn that Moscow would respond to US arms deliveries by massively supplying the pro-Russian rebels.

    That is seen as a nightmare scenario by most European leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Hollande.

    In a diplomatic blitz, both European leaders moved quickly to revive the September Minsk agreements to a ceasefire initially meant to begin in January.

    But it never held as both sides continued military operations.

    Late on Wednesday, Ukrainian and rebel forces reported that at least 20 people had been killed and dozens wounded in fighting around Donetsk and Luhansk in the east of the country.

    Source: Agencies

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