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Geneva talks begin hours after three pro-Russian separatists were killed in Ukraine

Leaders have gathered in Geneva for high-stake talks on Ukraine's ongoing crisis. Tension remain high after three pro-Moscow separatists were killed in Ukraine's southeast during a raid on a military base overnight.

Taking part in the talks in Geneva Thursday are EU foreign affairs head Catherine Ashton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya.

The scheduled meeting aims to abate the growing unrest in Ukraine's east where pro-Russian separatists have seized police stations and government buildings. The pro-Moscow camp has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to send troops into Ukraine.

The government in Kyiv, along with Western officials, has accused Moscow of instigating the protests, saying the events are similar to the situation that unfolded in Crimea, which ended with its annexation by Russia.

The meeting kicked off just hours after Ukraine's Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said three pro-Russian separatists were killed when Ukrainian troops repelled a crowd of 300 men who attacked a National Guard base in the southeastern town of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov.

"According to preliminary data, three attackers were killed, 13 wounded and 63 detained," Avakov said via his Facebook page. He said the pro-Russian group of attackers were armed with Molotov cocktails.

On Tuesday, Kyiv launched a military operation in eastern Ukraine after pro-Russian separatists refused a deadline to vacate government buildings. On Wednesday, pro-Russian activists seized several Ukrainian armored personnel carriers.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen announced Wednesday that the 28-nation alliance would deploy more patrol planes, ships and military staff to member states in eastern Europe, including the Baltic States. He said the move was made to monitor the situation developing in Ukraine, which is not a NATO member. However, he also said the alliance still hoped the talks would lead to a political solution to the crisis.

hc/dr (Reuters, AFP, AP)

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