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Germany, France Hopeful Of More Lasting Cease-Fire In Eastern Ukraine

(Left to right) Ukrainian Foreign Miniser Pavlo Klimkin (left), French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Berlin on June 11

Germany and France are voicing cautious optimism that Russia and Ukraine will take steps to revive the long-stalled cease-fire in eastern Ukraine, but said no agreement was reached on deploying a UN peacekeeping mission there.

That assessment came from the foreign ministers of France and Germany after a meeting with their Ukrainian and Russian counterparts in Berlin on June 11 in their first attempt at reviving peace talks in over a year.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said at a joint news conference with his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, that the talks were "open and constructive" and he hoped they would lead to fewer violations of the two countries' cease-fire agreement.

"All sides once more voiced support for a lasting cease-fire, including the withdrawal of heavy weapons, the disengagement of troops and demining, and the protection and granting of access" to observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, he said.

But while Moscow and Kyiv agreed in principle on deploying a United Nations peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine, their ideas about how to implement it were still "very much apart," Maas said.

Germany, France, and Ukraine want UN troops to be deployed in all areas controlled by Russia-backed separatists, including on the Ukraine-Russia border. Russia opposes this and has advocated a narrower role for peacekeepers.

"Regarding the parameters of a possible UN mission for eastern Ukraine, we agreed to instruct our political directors to continue negotiations, not about if but how such a mission could happen, and discuss this in the coming weeks," Maas said.

The focus of the Berlin meeting was trying to get both sides to honor a peace agreement reached in the Belarusian capital of Minsk in 2015 -- a detailed peace plan that has largely gone unheeded, with violations of the cease-fire occurring regularly this year.

"We know that there was a lack of will to implement these commitments in the past," Maas said.

But he said all sides agreed at the meeting to try to carry out at least the cease-fire provisions of the accord, which include the removal of heavy weaponry from combat zones and a further exchange of prisoners.

"I am firmly convinced that the political negotiations today are also exerting pressure on the ground," Maas said.

Le Drian also said he saw "a positive dynamic for what I hope will be a peaceful solution," adding that "we are ready to work on the parameters of a possible United Nations mission for eastern Ukraine when the implementation of the Minsk agreements will allow it."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said after the meeting that "of course we have not been able to solve all the problems related to the implementation of the Minsk agreements to settle the internal Ukrainian crisis, but I believe that this meeting was very useful."

Lavrov said the ministers discussed a "road map" for a prisoner exchange of people being held by Kyiv and Moscow, Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported.

In a rare phone call on June 9 ahead of the meeting, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko discussed a possible "exchange of people being held" by both sides.

It was the first meeting of the so-called "Normandy four" foreign ministers since February 2017, though lower-level officials have met regularly to try to resolve the conflict that has killed more than 10,300 people since it started in 2014.

The conflict has also internally displaced within Ukraine an estimated 1.6 million people – the largest uprooted population in Europe and among the 10 largest in the world.

With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP
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