Ukraine army and rebels say new truce in east disrupted

Kiev (AFP) - Ukrainian government forces and the pro-Russian separatist rebels fighting in eastern Ukraine on Saturday accused each other of disrupting a fragile truce declared late December.

Kiev and the rebels agreed a new "indefinite" ceasefire deal after Ukraine and Russia held talks in Minsk last month mediated by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and it went into force on December 24.

The deal brought fresh hope of an end to 31 months of fighting in which nearly 10,000 people have been killed.

Ex-Soviet Ukraine accuses its neighbour Russia of launching the war in retaliation for the ouster of Kiev's Moscow-backed president in 2014, while Russia denies any role in the conflict.

Ukraine's military on Saturday accused the rebel militias of shelling 23 times, three times from large-calibre weapons, in the last 24 hours in the area around the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

Meanwhile the leader of self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) Alexander Zakharchenko said Ukrainian forces carried out massive shelling of frontline areas on Friday evening and overnight.

"The broadening of the geographical location of combat and the total amount of hostile shelling demonstrates the enemy does not plan to carry out the Minsk agreements and is disposed to escalate the standoff," said Ukraine's military spokesman Oleksandr Motuzyanyk.

He said one Ukrainian soldier had been wounded in the last 24 hours.

Rebels on Friday handed over the bodies of three soldiers who the separatists say were blown up by land mines close to rebel positions around a week ago, Motuzyanyk added.

Ukraine had reported its first combat death since the truce on December 29 although this did not immediately lead to a collapse of the ceasefire.

Donetsk rebel leader Zakharchenko was quoted by the separatist news agency DAN as saying that "Ukraine always demonstrated it would not carry out the agreements reached in Minsk. There was no point from the start in accepting the 'regime of silence', it was not observed."

DAN reported that on Friday evening and overnight, Ukrainian forces "submitted a number of frontline populated areas to massive bombardment around Donetsk, Yasinuvata and Gorlivka and towards the south."

One civilian was killed by shelling overnight in the rebels' self-declared Lugansk People's Republic, its official news agency reported.

In its latest statement Friday, the OSCE said that between Wednesday and Thursday evenings its observers recorded "more mortar and artillery explosions" in the rebel-controlled area round Donetsk and "more ceasefire violations" in the area around Lugansk compared to the previous day.

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