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Ukraine promises to continue rebel offensive to restore peace in east

Ukraine says it will continue its military offensive against separatists in the east until peace and order return. It follows more fighting around the city of Slovyansk and the shooting down of a Ukrainian helicopter.

Ukraine's acting defense minister vowed to continue its operations in the east, a day after pro-Russian separatists

shot down a Ukrainian military helicopter

near the eastern city of Slovyansk, killing at least 12 servicemen. It was the deadliest loss of life for government troops since 18 were killed on May 22 around Donetsk.

"Our task is to bring peace and order to the region," Mykhailo Koval said on Friday. He said the military operations would keep going "until these regions begin to live normally, until there is peace."

Koval also announced that Ukraine forces had managed to clear parts of the east from separatists.

"Our armed forces have completed their assigned missions and completely cleared the southern and western parts of the Donetsk region and the northern part of the Luhansk region from the separatists," Koval said.

He accused Moscow of supporting the rebels and carrying out "special operations" in the east of Ukraine - something Russia denies.

Among those killed in the downing of a Ukrainian army helicopter on Thursday was National Guard training chief General Serhiy Kulchytskiy. While the National Guard later claimed that the attackers who shot at the aircraft had been killed, this was denied by the self-declared Mayor of Slovyansk, Vyacheslav Ponomaryov.

Following that incident, the White House said it was

concerned the separatists were being supplied with advanced weapons

- but did not directly accuse Russia of providing them. It did, however, call on Russia to do all it could to rein in the rebels.

There were further deadly clashes at Donetsk earlier this week, which saw Ukraine troops eventually regain control of the airport after a day of air strikes and fighting.

jr/hc (Reuters, AFP, dpa)

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