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Ukrainian foreign minister questions stability of ceasefire

Ukraine's foreign minister has called for more international monitoring of a UN-backed truce with pro-Russian rebels. He also reiterated that Crimea should be returned to Ukraine.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin on Tuesday called on the international community to help defend his country's territorial integrity, saying a current ceasefire between Kyiv and separatist rebels was in jeopardy.

"The situation on the ground is very difficult and tense despite a declared ceasefire. We still have many shells thrown by terrorists" in eastern Ukraine, Klimkin told reporters in Tokyo on the second day of a two-day trip to Japan.

"And exactly because of that we need [a] consistent position of the whole international community for defending Ukraine peace and territorial integrity," he added.

His remarks came as monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), tasked with supervising the truce, said it was too early to confirm whether both sides had pulled heavy weaponry from the frontline, as required by the ceasefire agreement.

"What we need is, of course, at least a minor confidence and it could be provided by ... clear monitoring and verification by the OSCE monitoring mission," Klimkin said, adding that the

complementary deployment of a United Nations or European Union mission

was under discussion.

'Return of Crimea essential'

Klimkin also called for Crimea, which was annexed by Russia early last year, to be returned to Kyiv's sovereignty, saying this was essential for mending ties with Moscow.

"There could be no slightest way of normalizing or getting back to business in the relations between Ukraine and Russia without ... establishing full Ukrainian sovereignty over Crimea," he said.

He also called for the Ukraine-Russia border to be completely closed as the "ultimate precondition for any effective final settlement," repeating allegations leveled by Kyiv and many Western countries that Moscow is sending supplies, money, weapons and fighters over the frontier.

More military deaths

Underlining the fragility of the two-week-old ceasefire, Ukrainian military sources told Reuters news agency on Tuesday that three Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and nine wounded in the last 24 hours in fighting with the pro-Moscow insurgents.

If confirmed, the losses would be some of the worst for Kyiv in days.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine has so far

killed more than 6,000 people, according to UN figures.

The crisis has brought ties between Russia and the West to their lowest point since the Cold War, with Moscow denying all accusations that it is helping the insurgents.

tj/ksb (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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