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OSCE urges probe of Minsk peace treaty violations in eastern Ukraine

European monitoring group OSCE has called on Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists to do more to investigate violations of the ceasefire. The shaky ceasefire was brokered in Minsk last year.

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) deputy director Alexander Hug has accused both sides in the conflict in eastern Ukraine of failing to investigate and take action against violations of the ceasefire.

Hug said the violations included the discovery of unauthorized weapons, the downing of drones and attacks on OSCE personnel.

"Both sides are equally guilty, and increase the feeling that ... there is no political cost for non-compliance," Hug said in an interview on Tuesday.

While the OSCE deputy director said the number of violations had dropped in recent days, the situation in eastern Ukraine remained "very unstable."

"It is now time - rather than trying to find new ways to regulate the conflict - that those remedies that have been agreed should be implemented in full," he said, adding it would then be clear which side was undertaking "actual, real measures to stop the fighting."

The latest report of the OSCE Special Monitoring Group to Ukraine, SMM, outlined the situation: "The SMM observed fewer ceasefire violations in both Donetsk and Luhansk regions compared to the previous day. In Donetsk region, the SMM recorded over 40 explosions during the night of 20 June, while it did not record any ceasefire violations during daytime.

"In Luhansk region, the Mission recorded ten explosions. The Mission conducted crater analysis and observed damage to residential houses caused by shelling in six locations on both sides of the contact line. It continued to observe significant movement of weapons in government-controlled areas of Luhansk region."

Progress in implementation of the terms of the Minsk peace agreement last year has been slow: "In violation of the respective withdrawal lines, the SMM observed two self-propelled howitzers in government-controlled Novookhtyrka, north-west of Luhansk."

A ruined house in Donetsk

A ruined house in Donetsk

The monitors also reported that their work was being impeded: "The SMM’s monitoring is restrained by security hazards and threats, including risks posed by mines and unexploded ordnance, and by restrictions of its freedom of movement and other impediments, which vary from day to day."

Fighting in eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists started in April 2014, just weeks after Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimea. The fighting has claimed more than 9,300 lives so far.

Sanctions against Russia

On Tuesday, European Union officials agreed to extend a range of energy, financial and defense sanctions against Russia until the end of January. They were imposed following Russia's alleged involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has urged a softer approach to Russia, which is a key trade partner and energy provider to Europe.

Chancellor Angela Merkel has said sanctions against Russia can only be unwound once Moscow has implemented the terms of the Minsk peace agreement for eastern Ukraine.

At a summit in the Belarus capitak Minsk in February 2015, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany agreed on measures to alleviate the conflict in the Donbass region of Ukraine. The new package of measures was intended to revive a previous protocol, agreed to in September 2014, which had collapsed along with a ceasefire at the start of 2015.

A protest march in Donetsk in June against arming OSCE Special Monitoring Mission members.

A protest march in Donetsk in June against the arming of OSCE monitors

Last Friday, Russian President Vladimir Putin said Ukraine needed to honor the Minsk peace deal for eastern Ukraine by offering broader rights to the region, holding elections there and offering amnesty to rebels.

Putin said he agreed with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's proposal to allow OSCE observers to carry weapons, something that met with opposition from protesters in Donetsk earlier this month.

jm/bk (AP, Reuters)

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