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German FM Steinmeier warns Ukraine truce becoming more 'fragile'

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has praised Ukraine's government for keeping the country's economy in check while fighting separatists in the east. But he warned that a three-month truce was very fragile.

Steinmeier (right in photo) met with a host of officials in Ukraine. He told President Petro Poroshenko (left) that it was of utmost importance that a ceasefire agreed to in February in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, be observed.

"We must proceed with the implementation of the Minsk agreement," Steinmeier said on Friday.

Steinmeier told Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk that the ceasefire had become more "fragile" in recent days. His comments coincided with an announcement from Paris that French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel had held a phone conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, urging the rapid implementation of the terms of the Minsk agreement.

In February, representatives from Germany, France, Russia, Ukraine's government and the separatists agreed to the ceasefire after marathon talks - at the time the second attempt at halting a war that has now killed 6,300 people. The truce has succeeded in containing the fighting but failed to put an end to daily clashes around some of the most disputed hotspots. An envoy for Ukrainian President Poroshenko plans to return to Minsk to meet separatist representatives in the coming days.

In recent weeks, a group of German and Ukrainian historians have agreed to cooperate on presenting a more complete history of the region. Germany has also agreed to compensate residents of the former Soviet Union who were held prisoner during the country's Nazi era.

'We pay tribute'

Steinmeier praised Ukraine's government for handling the country's economy - precarious even in peacetime - while engaged in civil war with separatists. Among other creditors, Germany is providing a total of 700 million euros ($770 million) in financial assistance to Ukraine this year.

"We pay tribute to those reforms that you and this government have already put into motion," Steinmeier said to Prime Minister Yatsenyuk in Kyiv on Friday.

Yatsenyuk said neither managing Ukraine's economy nor battling separatists came easy: "Every day of the war costs us between $5 million and $7 million." Any problems implementing February's Minsk ceasefire deal, Yatsenyuk said, were the fault of Russia and not his government.

On Friday, Russia named 89 Europeans banned over sanctions that followed the country's annexation of Crimea and alleged meddling in Ukraine. Blacklisted Germans include the Christian Democrat diplomat Karl-Georg Wellmann, his partymate and the deputy head of the Bundestag conservative caucaus Michael Fuchs, the Green members of the European Parliament Rebecca Harms and Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and several others.

Russian officials have come under fire over a recent decision to make the number of war dead a state secret, and the recent murder of a prominent dissident.

Steinmeier is due to continue his Ukraine visit on Saturday with a visit to the city of Dnipropetrovsk.

mkg/ (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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