A round of peace talks between Ukrainian and pro-Russian rebel leaders has been scrapped, the host of the negotiations - the foreign ministry of Belarus - has said.

Dmitry Mironchik, a spokesman of the ministry, told the AP news agency that the talks broke down on Friday, but did not give a reason.

The opening round was held on Wednesday, one day after Ukraine's decision to drop its non-aligned status, which added a new element of tension to attempts to resolve the violent crisis in the country.

A deal was reached on only the least contentious of the four agenda points: a prisoner swap that will involve 225 rebels and 150 Ukrainian troops.

An aide to one of the two rebels at Wednesday's negotiations said he was heading back to the separatist east Ukrainian region of Donetsk, because there appeared to be little point in staying in Minsk.

The talks were meant to reinforce two September deals that aimed both to end one of Europe's bloodiest conflicts in decades and to preserve Ukraine as a single nation in which Russian-border regions enjoyed more self-control.

Yet little of what was agreed nearly four months ago has been achieved.

Across the war zone

The separatist industrial regions of Luhansk and Donetsk staged their own leadership polls in November that angered Kiev and dampened early glimmers of hope of a political settlement being reached soon.

And insubordinate field commanders from both sides continued ignoring the formal truce declaration and waged battles that killed 1,300 more people.

UN officials fear that their total toll of 4,700 deaths may be too conservative because militias have been hiding their losses and denying outsiders access to their burial sites.

The most difficult task facing European mediators is finding a way for the sides to begin pulling back their tanks so that a 30-kilometre buffer zone could be established across the war zone.

The rebels are currently most interested in seeing the resumption of social welfare payments that Kiev suspended last month out of fear that they were being used to finance the revolt.

Source: Agencies