National News

Ukraine president offers cease-fire

By David McHugh, The Associated Press

KYIV, Ukraine - Ukraine's president said Wednesday that government forces will unilaterally cease fire to allow pro-Russian separatists in the east of the country a chance to lay down weapons or leave the country, a potential major development to bring peace to the country.

Petro Poroshenko's plan, announced following conversations with Russian and German leaders, aims to end two months of fighting in eastern provinces that form the nation's industrial heartland. It could also help ease the worst crisis between Russia and the West since the Cold War, which was triggered by Moscow's annexation of Crimea that followed the ouster of Ukraine's pro-Russia president.

The Kremlin said Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed a possible cease-fire in a phone conversation with Poroshenko late Tuesday. Poroshenko's office said he also discussed his peace plan with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"The plan will begin with my order for a unilateral cease-fire," Poroshenko told reporters in Kyiv. "I can say that the period of the cease-fire will be rather short. We anticipate, that immediately after this, the disarming of the illegal military formations will take place."

He said that those who lay down arms and haven't committed grave crimes will be granted amnesty, and there will be joint patrols against looters and other criminals.

Poroshenko didn't say when the cease-fire could be declared, but the country's defence minister, Mykhailo Koval, was quoted as saying the cease-fire could begin "literally within days."

Any such cease-fire would raise the question of whether the separatists would respect it, and whether Russia had the desire or the ability to persuade them to do so.

Russia has denied Ukrainian and Western claims that it was fomenting the insurgency in the east by sending troops and weapons, insisting that Russian nationals among the rebels are volunteers. Some top rebel leaders visited Moscow Tuesday and met with senior officials and lawmakers.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, speaking in Baku, Azerbaijan, said that any cease-fire should be "comprehensive," not temporary. However, he said that if it was followed by negotiations "then it could be the step President Poroshenko has promised and which in general we were all waiting for."

Separatists have seized government buildings, held disputed referendums and declared independence in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions along Ukraine's eastern border with Russia. Ukrainian troops have struggled to suppress the insurgents, who on Saturday shot down a military transport plane, killing all 49 on board. Authorities say more than 300 people have died in fighting.

Poroshenko was elected after a protest movement drove his predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, from office in February.

In his inaugural address June 7, Poroshenko said he was willing to negotiate with people in the region, but not with "terrorists" with "blood on their hands." He proposed an amnesty for separatists who have not committed violent acts, early regional elections and new efforts to create jobs in the area.

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