KIEV (Reuters) - A new round of peace talks on the conflict in Ukraine’s east could be held in the next few days, Ukrainian officials said on Wednesday, even as Kiev called on the world to ostracise rebel forces over a deadly attack on a bus.
Under fire at home for perceived softness towards the pro-Russian rebels, President Petro Poroshenko took steps to refresh front-line troops with experienced veterans and revived plans to resume conscription, which was dropped in 2013.
Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said a new meeting of the “contact group” that brings together Ukraine, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe could be held in the coming days to consider the next move under a peace plan mapped out in Minsk, Belarus, last September.
“We are working on this and I hope that the session will be held in the next few days,” the minister, Pavlo Klimkin, was quoted by the news agency as saying.
While a new “contact group” meeting suggests an effort to re-float peacemaking, tension has risen sharply in Kiev since Tuesday’s attack on a passenger bus which killed 12 people and wounded about 20 others.
The leaders of Germany and France called Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Wednesday to voice their sadness at the bus attack, which they all agreed underlined the urgency of holding a contact group meeting soon to seek an effective ceasefire.
A contact group meeting would constitute “an important next step”, said Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert in a statement.
The meeting in Minsk in September, which separatist leaders also attended, drafted a 12-point ceasefire plan to resolve a rebellion by pro-Russian separatists in which more than 4,700 people have been killed.
But the truce was regularly violated with almost non-stop clashes between government forces and separatists who have set up pro-Russian “people’s republics” in the east.
Kiev says 129 civilians and more than 200 soldiers have been killed since the ceasefire theoretically came into force in early September.
The war between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels broke out soon after Russia annexed Crimea last year, creating the worst crisis in East-West relations since the Cold War.
Western governments accuse Russia of backing the rebels, including by sending in troops, a charge it denies.
Kiev says Russia has failed to comply with undertakings in the Minsk protocol to pull out Russian fighters supporting the separatists as well as military equipment. It also reproaches Russia and the separatists for failing to release all the Ukrainian prisoners-of-war they are holding.
Earlier this week, Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France called off plans to hold a summit on the conflict because of a lack of progress in implementing the Minsk agreement.
Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets and Pavel Polityuk and Stephen Brown in Berlin; Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Ralph Boulton