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Belarus Says Ukraine Talks To Be Held January 30


Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka speaks during his news conference in Minsk on January 29.

A new round of talks on the conflict in eastern Ukraine is due to take place on January 30 amid an escalation in fighting and mounting casualties.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said representatives of Ukraine, Russia, pro-Russian separatists, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) will meet in Minsk on January 30 for talks on the conflct in Ukraine.

In eastern Ukraine, rebels fighting against Ukrainian government forces expressed their readiness to attend the meeting of the so-called contact group in the Belarusian capital.

Russian news agencies quoted ministry spokesman Dmitry Mironchik as saying that "information on the precise venue and time" of the meeting will be released on the morning of January 30.

It was not immediately clear whether Russian-backed separatists fighting against Ukrainian governent forces would attend the meeting of the so-called contact group in the Belarusian capital.

It comes amid growing international concern over an escalation of fighting this month and statements by separatists saying they would seize more territory and not initiate peace talks.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said talks should lead to "an immediate cease-fire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the line of contact" in eastern Ukraine.

The news broke as EU foreign ministers opened a meeting in Brussels on January 29 to discuss whether to extend current sanctions against Russia and approve new ones.

Earlier on January 29, Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said five Ukrainian soldiers had been killed and 29 wounded in fighting in Ukraine's eastern regions in the past 24 hours.

Lysenko also said that separatists shelled Ukrainian army positions in more than 100 separate attacks.

He said here had also been an increase in the number of Russian military instructors aiding the rebels.

Kyiv and the West says the steep increase in rebel attacks violate a cease-fire deal signed in September in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, and decrease the chances of ending a conflict that has killed more than 5,100 people since April.

Rebels have said that the terms of the Minsk agreement are no longer in force and vowed to seize more ground in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

Russia denies sending troops to eastern Ukraine to aid the rebels, saying the only Russians fighting there are "volunteers."

But the head of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) said on January 28 Russia has deployed seven "mobile military crematoriums" in the eastern Donetsk region to burn the bodies of Russian soldiers killed in combat there.

Valentyn Nalyvaychenko said the crematoriums are mounted on KamAZ trucks, and said each is burning eight to 10 bodies per day.

He said Ukraine had "documented this information" but did not explain how.

Relatives of some Russian soldiers say servicemen have been pressured to fight in Ukraine, and there are reports of bodies of Russian soldiers being repatriated for burial.

The escalation of fighting in recent weeks followed unsuccessful diplomatic efforts to ensure the cease-fire is implemented and push for a resultion of the conflict.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said on January 29 that he fears the confrontation between Russia and the West over Ukraine could escalate into war.

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka expressed concern the conflict in eastern Ukraine could spill over into Belarus and Russia -- a country he said was "involved in the crisis to an extreme degree."

Also on January 29 in Brussels, EU foreign ministers agreed to extend an initial set of sanctions against Russian officials and pro-Russian separatists until September due to continued hostilities in eastern Ukraine.

Foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc also agreed to add new names to the sanctions blacklist and will start work on further "restrictive measures."

The measures include travel bans and asset freezes.

Speaking on January 29 to MEPs from a delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee in Brussels, Russian EU Ambassador Vladimir Chizov said sanctions are "a road to nowhere."

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Robert Coalson, and Reuters
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