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Deadly shootout reported in eastern Ukraine

A deadly shootout has been reported in the east of Ukraine. Details remain sketchy, but at least one person was killed in the incident.

The Ukrainian interior ministry said on Sunday that at one person was killed and three others wounded in a shootout near the city of Slavyiansk overnight. It said the details of the incident remained unclear.

Earlier, the Reuters news agency on Sunday cited a member of a camera team who reported having seen two bodies at a checkpoint outside of the city. The witness said one of the dead was dressed in combat fatigues, while the other was in civilian clothes.

The AFP news agency cited a local official in Slavyansk, which is controlled by pro-Russian separatists, who said four people had been killed in the gunfight.

The incident comes amid heightened tensions in eastern Ukraine, despite a pledge by the country's interim government to observe an Easter "truce." On Friday the government pledged to suspend what it describes as an "anti-terrorist" operation to end the occupation of public buildings by pro-Russia gunmen in more than a dozen eastern cities.

The gunmen have rejected the terms of a deal struck by Russian, US, European Union and Ukrainian diplomats in Geneva on Thursday, which called on activists to lay down their arms and end their occupation of administrative offices.

The separatists have said they would remain where they are until what they see as an illegitimate government in Kyiv - established after the fall of pro-Kremlin president Viktor Yanukovych - steps down.

The deputy head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's mission in Ukraine, Mark Etherington, was to open negotiations with separatists in the city of Donetsk later on Sunday.

Also on the diplomatic front the US has been seeking to convince the Kremlin to use its influence in eastern Ukraine to ensure that the terms of the Geneva deal are implemented. The US and EU have already imposed sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, and have warned that more could be on the way unless it is resolved soon.

Contingency plans

While both Washington and Moscow have stressed that they want the crisis in Ukraine to be resolved peacefully, both were reported to be preparing for other eventualities.

Last week, NATO released satellite photos it said proved that Russia had massed more than 40,000 troops along its border with Ukraine. On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that US defense officials were planning to deploy more ground troops to Poland and possible Baltic states, in an effort to step up NATO's presence in the Western military alliance's eastern European states.

pfd/jm (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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