Six fighters killed in Ukraine ahead of new EU push for peace

Kiev (AFP) - Ukraine suffered one of its deadliest days in weeks Tuesday as both government forces and pro-Russian rebels each reported the deaths of three fighters on the eve of a new peace push by Germany and France.

For Kiev that brought to four the number of soldiers killed in combat since the latest truce went into effect on September 1.

The separatists in eastern Ukraine have also reported a number of casualties in that period as the 29-month-long war in the European Union's backyard drags on at the cost of nearly 9,600 lives.

The leaders of Germany and France helped negotiate a February 2015 peace agreement that was supposed to end fighting and decide the status of the rebel-run regions by the end of last year.

But that deal and the subsequent series of temporary ceasefires have done little to halt clashes that have left about two million people homeless and destroyed much of the former Soviet republic's industrial heartland.

The lack of progress has made it necessary to prolong the so-called Minsk Agreements reached in the Belarussian capital until the start of 2017.

Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk said the latest deaths occurred in the breakaway provinces of Lugansk and Donetsk.

"Tragically, three Ukrainian servicemen were killed and 15 of our fighters were wounded. One serviceman remains unaccounted for," he told reporters.

The rebels said a battle in the Donetsk region resulted in the death of three of their fighters as well.

Donetsk separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko told Russian television that his forces also intended to impose a unilateral ceasefire effective Thursday.

It was not immediately clear why he made the announcement more than two weeks after the sides had already agreed to another temporary truce.

- 'Dragging on' peace process -

The deadly fighting came the day before German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault were due to arrive in Kiev for talks with Ukrainian officials on ending one of Europe's bloodiest crises since the 1990s Balkans wars.

But some analysts expect little progress to be made.

Ukraine says no meaningful peace talks can be held with the rebels until the government regains control of the eastern portion of its porous border with Russia, which it accuses Moscow of using to supply the separatists with weapons and active troops.

Moscow denies the charges and calls Russians spotted or captured in the war zone either patriotic volunteers or off-duty soldiers -- claims that neither Kiev nor the West believe.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov added to the tensions by accusing Kiev of purposely dragging out the conflict.

"In our opinion, Kiev's line is to establish a complete ceasefire that is respected for at least a month, and only then begin discussing the political aspects of the Minsk Agreements," Lavrov said at a Moscow press conference Tuesday.

"This line is aimed at dragging on this process forever."

Ukraine's parliament has thus far failed to approve a law allowing the separatists to hold elections in their regions and enjoy partial autonomy while remaining a part of the east European country.

Kiev also wants an international police force to monitor the war zone to record and avert future ceasefire violations.

Rebel leaders have opposed the idea while neither Steinmeier nor Ayrault have committed themselves to such a deployment.

The Kremlin has said the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) mission currently on the ground could be equipped with pistols for self-protection but no more, in some regions.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting