Debaltseve under rebel control, Ukraine troops retreat | News | DW | 18.02.2015
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Debaltseve under rebel control, Ukraine troops retreat

Ukraine's army has been forced to move out of strategic railway hub Debaltseve in the country's east following relentless shelling by rebels. Kyiv has called for international peacekeepers.

At least 2,500 Ukrainian troops moved out of Debaltseve, a strategic railway hub, which links rebel-controlled towns Donetsk and Luhansk, after rebels encircled and relentlessly assaulted Kyiv's army.

Spokesman for the rebels, Eduard Basurin told the AFP news agency that the town was "completely under the control" of the insurgents and that more than 300 government soldiers had been taken into captivity.

"One-hundred-and-sixty-seven wounded have been taken to Artemivsk," Semen Semenchenko of the Donbass paramilitary battalion wrote on Facebook.

Kyiv calls for peace force

Ukraine's army had lost 22 soldiers in the past few days with more than 150 wounded, the country's military high command said.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko tried to portray his army's retreat in a positive light.

"The Ukrainian troops…gave a blow in the teeth to those who were trying to encircle them… Our troops and formations have left in a planned and organized manner," the AP reported Poroshenko as saying.

Following the takeover of the town, Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council approved a decision to invite UN-mandated peacekeepers in the country to monitor porous borders.

"We see the best format would be a police mission from the European Union. We are sure this would be the most effective and best guarantee for security," Poroshenko said.

Minsk talks failed?

The fall of Debaltseve dealt a heavy blow to the Minsk agreement last week, according to which Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists in its east were to enforce a ceasefire beginning February 15.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman, Steffen Seibert, admitted that the rebel offensive affected chances of peace in the region, but France was hopeful that the truce "was not dead." Merkel, French President Francois Hollande, Russian President Putin and Poroshenko were to discuss the situation over telephone later on Wednesday.

Western countries and Ukraine blame Russia for the conflict in Ukraine's east which began with the Russian annexation of Crimea last year and has killed more than 5,600 people until now. Kyiv accuses Moscow of supporting separatists with arms and supplies, a charge which Moscow denies.

mg/rc (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)

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