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Contact group says warring sides in Ukraine reach new ceasefire

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A Ukrainian serviceman fires his gun in the direction of pro-Russia forces during night combat near the village of Zaytseve, not far from Gorlivka Town, on June 20, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

The Ukrainian government has reached a fresh ceasefire with pro-Russia forces fighting in the east of the country, a contact group says, raising hopes for an end to a deadly four-year-long conflict.

The truce, which is slated to come into force on Sunday, was agreed at a meeting of the Trilateral Contact Group (TCG) on Ukraine in the Belarusian capital city of Minsk on Wednesday, said Darka Olifer, the spokesperson for Ukraine’s representative in the group.

The TCG, which comprises representatives from Kiev, Moscow, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), was formed in May 2014 in an attempt to facilitate a diplomatic solution to the war in the Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts of Ukraine, collectively known as the Donbass.

‘Indefinite ceasefire regime’

“Due to the start of the harvest period, the Contact Group... has agreed and supported a stable and universal ceasefire starting on July 1,” Olifer wrote on her Facebook account.

She added that at the meeting, which was also attended by representatives of the pro-Russia forces, the TCG confirmed “the parties’ full commitments” to the “indefinite ceasefire regime.”

The next meeting of the TCG is scheduled to be held in Minsk on July 11.

Conflict erupted in Ukraine following the overthrow of the then-president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014 and further escalated after people in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea voted for unification with Russia in a referendum in March 2014.

Kiev then launched a crackdown on the Donbass — mainly populated by ethnic Russians — in an attempt to prevent a similar separation there. The government crackdown soon led to a full-blown armed conflict.

The United States and its allies in Europe accuse Russia of having a hand in the crisis in eastern Ukraine, an allegation strongly denied by the Kremlin.

The conflict has so far left over 10,000 people dead and more than a million others displaced, according to the United Nations.

Unidentified individuals dig trenches and make other fortifications on the front line near the small industrial town of Yasynuvata, not far from Donetsk, Ukraine, May 5, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

In September 2014, the government in Kiev and the pro-Russia forces signed a ceasefire agreement, also in Minsk, in a bid to halt the fighting in Ukraine’s east. The warring sides inked another ceasefire accord in the Belarusian capital in February 2015 under the supervision of Russia, Germany, and France.

Neither of the two ceasefires managed to stop the fighting, even though they reduced it.

The OSCE, which is the world's largest security-oriented intergovernmental organization, said in its latest report on Wednesday that it had “recorded more ceasefire violations in both Donetsk and Luhansk regions compared with the previous reporting period.”

Earlier in the day, the Ukrainian army said it had lost four soldiers in clashes with the pro-Russians over the previous 24 hours.

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