Merkel warns against military answer to Ukraine crisis

Fighting resumes in country's east as German chancellor tells Munich conference that diplomacy efforts may not succeed.

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that it is uncertain whether a flurry of diplomacy aimed at resolving the crisis in Ukraine will succeed, as fighting resumed in eastern Ukraine after a brief and fractious truce ended.

    After returning from talks in Moscow with French President Francois Hollande and Russian President Vladimir Putin, Merkel also emphasised on Saturday that "this crisis cannot be solved by military means".

    Pro-Russian rebels make gains in Ukraine's east

    The three leaders agreed during late-night talks in Moscow on Friday on a blueprint for a plan to end the fighting in Ukraine.

    Hollande said that the Franco-German plan was "one of the last chances" to stop the 10-month-old conflict that has claimed some 5,400 lives.

    A spokesman for Putin said that more than four hours of talks saw the leaders agree on the drafting of a blueprint that would also include proposals from Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko.

    Poroshenko told Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid that "there is still a chance for peace" with the new Franco-German proposal presented on Friday, but did not expand on that statement any further.

    Addressing the Munich Security Conference on Saturday about the latest peace talks, Merkel said while "it is uncertain whether they will be successful" she and Hollande believed it is "in any case worth making this attempt".

    "We have not yet had sufficiently good experiences" with agreements that have been made being honoured on the ground, she said, but that should not stop continuing efforts.

    Merkel's speech was attended by Poroshenko and US Vice President Joe Biden.

    The German chancellor planned to hold a three-way meeting with both on the sidelines.

    US Secretary of State John Kerry is also attending the conference.

    Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko plan to confer on Sunday by telephone with Putin.

    Allied divisions

    Merkel also said: "I think that the progress Ukraine needs won't be achieved with even more weapons."

    Fighting intensifies in Ukraine's Donetsk

    The chancellor's comments came as NATO's top military commander said Western powers should not rule out sending weapons and other military equipment to help the Ukrainian army.

    The remarks by US Air Force General Philip Breedlove were his strongest public intervention yet in the debate going on in Washington over whether the US should send defensive weapons to help the Ukrainian government forces.

    Also speaking at the conference in Germany, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow, Berlin and Paris were still working to bring an end to the conflict.

    "These talks will continue as you know; we believe there is every possibility that we will reach a result and agree the recommendations that will allow the sides to really untie this knot of a conflict," said Lavrov.

    He said Russia would be ready to guarantee a fresh peace plan based on the Minsk accords signed by Kiev, the Russian-backed rebels and Moscow in September but which has so far failed to halt the fighting.

    "If the main participants in the Minsk process - the Ukrainian authorities and the representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk people's republics - reach agreements on each of the points of the Minsk pact, I am sure that Russia will be among those who will guarantee these agreements."

    He also blamed Western governments for escalating the Ukrainian crisis.

    Renewed fighting

    Also on Saturday, missile fire hit the battleground town of Debaltseve in east Ukraine, a day after a humanitarian truce allowed hundreds of civilians to flee, government officials said.

    "In Debaltseve since 6:00am this morning rebels have been firing Grad rockets," Kiev-loyal regional police chief Vyacheslav Abroskin said.

    According to a military spokesman, five soldiers had been killed and 26 wounded since the truce ended.

    The spokesman also said pro-Russia separatists were preparing to launch a fresh offensive in Debaltseve, the scene of some of the region's most intense fighting in recent days.

    RELATED: Ukraine human rights 'deteriorating rapidly'

    Ukraine's military had previously said that a temporary ceasefire that saw shelling of the beleaguered town halt for several hours on Friday could be extended into Saturday.

    Kiev's emergency rescue services said that 753 people, including 81 children were evacuated Friday from Debaltseve and surrounding towns after the government and rebels sent in buses to collect them.

    The repeated breaking of truce agreements, such as the 12-point Minsk protocol, has led to increasing doubt over the current peace talks.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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