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Merkel, Hollande, Poroshenko and Putin try to rescue Ukraine truce

The leaders of Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia have spoken on the telephone in an attempt to keep alive a faltering ceasefire in eastern Ukraine. All four called for the truce to be fully implemented.

Thursday's telephone conversation was just the last attempt by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande to rescue the peace accord reached a week ago in Minsk, which they spearheaded.

Following their latest conference call involving Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, the four leaders called on the two parties to the conflict in eastern Ukraine to fully implement the terms of the agreement.

"They agreed that to do this, immediate, concrete steps must be taken towards the comprehensive implementation of the ceasefire and a withdrawal of heavy weapons under the observation of the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe], as agreed in the Minsk package of measures," German government spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters in Berlin on Thursday.

The office of President Hollande issued a similar statement, adding that "the breaches in the ceasefire seen in recent days were denounced."

A Kremlin statement also said the four leaders had agreed that the truce must be sustained.

Debaltseve in rebel hands

Poroshenko, however, denounced the pro-Russia rebels who appear to have taken control of the town of Debaltseve, part of which until Wednesday was held by government troops.

In a statement posted on his website, Poroshenko urged the rebels "not to pretend that what happened in Debaltseve was in line with the Minsk agreements."

The pro-Russian separatists have denied breaking the truce, saying the ceasefire did not apply to Debaltseve as it was territory they said they controlled when the ceasefire went into effect.

More shelling reported

There was also an indication fighting in Ukraine had not come to an end. The Reuters news agency quoted a local Ukrainian army spokesman, who said the pro-Russia separatists had launched attacks on government-held positions near the coastal town of Mariupol.

"Right now there are mortar attacks on Shyrokine," the spokesman said, referring to a village about 30 kilometers (19 miles) east of Mariupol."There is no attempt to seize our positions up to now. The rebels are bringing up reserves."

Meanwhile, a call from Poroshenko for an international peacekeeping force to be deployed to eastern Ukraine was quickly rejected both by Moscow and the rebels.

pfd/sms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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