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Hopes for a Christmas ceasefire in Ukraine

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said that a ceasefire ahead of the holiday period should be respected "for the sake of the civilian population."

At a meeting with international negotiators in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Wednesday, representatives of both sides in the Ukrainian conflict agreed to lay down their weapons at midnight Kyiv time (2200 UTC) on December 24.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who is also the chairperson-in-office of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), said after the meeting that he welcomed the "unanimous recommitment" to a ceasefire ahead of the holiday period.

"We need this above all for the sake of the civilian population in the areas affected by the conflict," Steinmeier said.

"Moreover, I call on all sides to release a significant number of persons detained in relation with the conflict before the end of the year, starting with the most vulnerable," he added.

Deutschland Steinmeier vor OSZE-Treffen in Hamburg (picture-alliance/dpa/C. Charisius)

Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier is the current Chairperson-in-Office of the OSCE

Concessions on both sides

According to Martin Sajdik, who was appointed by Steinmeier as the OSCE's Special Representative to the Ukraine, the Minsk discussions included the release of detainees.

"This week several persons have been released both by the Ukrainian side and by certain areas of the Donetsk region," Sajdik said.

He added that the Ukrainian side had "expressed its readiness" to release a further 15 people by the end of the year as a "humanitarian gesture."

The talks were coordinated by the Trilateral Contact Group – which includes Ukrainian, Russian and European envoys – and involved representatives from the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine.

Ukraine Waffenruhe Zerstörte Gebäude (Reuters/B. Ratner)

Successive attempts to implement a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine have failed

Ceasefire violations

Attempts to resolve the war in eastern Ukraine have suffered successive setbacks. The 2014 Minsk Protocol, which saw Ukrainian government troops and Russian rebels agree to establish a ceasefire, was continually violated and eventually broke down completely in early 2015.

The Minsk II revision, which was signed in February 2015, also failed to quell the violence.

Speaking about the failure to fully implement a ceasefire in 2016, Sajdik said: "This lack of progress should not stop us from continuing our process next year, with renewed vigor and new enthusiasm."

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