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Kiev pledges more autonomy to east

By Associated Press in Kiev | China Daily | Updated: 2014-09-11 07:12

President rejects separatists' call for federalization

Ukraine's president promised on Wednesday to introduce a bill as early as next week that would offer greater autonomy to the eastern region, where separatists have been battling government troops for almost five months.

But Petro Poroshenko also said the regions will remain part of Ukraine and rejected the idea of federalization, something both Russia and the separatists are still pushing for even after a cease-fire that began on Friday.

The cease-fire agreement, reached in Belarus, "envisages the restoration and preservation of Ukrainian sovereignty over the entire territory of Donbas, including the part that is temporarily under control of the rebels", Poroshenko said during a televised Cabinet meeting. "Ukraine has made no concessions with regards to its territorial integrity."

Ukraine and the West have repeatedly accused Russia of fueling the separatists with arms, expertise and even its own troops. Russia denies the accusations.

Poroshenko has struggled to paint the Minsk cease-fire agreement - reached as the rebels waged a major counteroffensive that pushed back the Ukrainian troops who had encircled them - as a victory rather than a defeat.

He also said 700 Ukrainian prisoners had been freed from rebel captivity and expressed hope that another 500 would be freed by the end of the week.

It was unclear, however, how many of those freed were soldiers rather than civilians. Andriy Lysenko, spokesman for the Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council, told journalists on Wednesday that only 20 servicemen had returned home so far. In Donetsk, a rebel spokesman said a planned exchange of 36 soldiers from each side had been put off until Thursday, blaming the government for the delay.

Vague bill

The president admitted that "implementing the cease-fire is very difficult" and accused separatists of "provoking" Ukrainian troops.

The cease-fire has been violated numerous times. Ukraine said five servicemen have been killed and 33 injured since Friday. A volley of rocket fire could be heard in Donetsk late on Sept 4, although the city council didn't report any casualties overnight.

Poroshenko was vague on the specifics of his bill. But a previous peace plan laid out in June envisaged protection for the Russian language, joint patrols of federal and local police, and letting local representatives give their approval for governors, who are appointed by the central government in Kiev.

All of those concessions are minor in comparison to what the separatists want. At various times, they have demanded full independence from Kiev or union with Russia, something that Russian President Vladimir Putin has ignored. But even their concessions to having Ukraine become federalized would require local control over security forces and elections for governors.

Poroshenko may have difficulty crafting a bill that is palatable to both the separatists and his Parliament, which is gearing up for a parliamentary election on Oct 26. The Ukrainian public has been largely supportive of the war in the east against the separatists.

(China Daily 09/11/2014 page12)

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