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Ukraine

Foreign ministers to hold urgent meeting on Ukraine crisis

The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany are to hold an urgent meeting to address tensions in eastern Ukraine. The situation worsened after claims Russia tried to send a military convoy into Ukraine.

The meeting between Ukraine and Russia's top diplomats is scheduled to take place in Berlin on Sunday.

"I hope that it will finally be possible to bring about an end to these violent confrontations and to get urgently needed aid to the people affected by the violence in eastern Ukraine," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told the newspaper, Bild am Sonntag.

In a statement, the French government called for a renewed "political process," and said the talks could be a first step towards a Ukraine-Russia peace summit.

Skirmishes between pro-Russian rebels and Ukrainian government forces continued along the border with Russia on Saturday. Ukraine security council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said three Ukrainian servicemen had been killed over the past 24 hours.

On Friday, in what appeared to be an escalation in the conflict, Ukraine said it had destroyed part of a Russian armored column that crossed into its territory at nighttime. But the Russian defense ministry dismissed the accusation Russian troops had been sent into eastern Ukraine as "fantasy."

Reinforcements for the rebels

Meanwhile, a rebel leader in the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on Friday said 150 armored vehicles and 1,200 fighters had been sent from Russia as reinforcements.

In a video posted on a rebel Internet site, and quoted by news agency AFP, Alexander Zakharchenko, said the new troops had had "four months of training on Russian territory," and had "been brought in at the most crucial moment."

Ukraine's government forces have made significant gains in recent months, and are close to encircling the largest rebel-held city of Donetsk, while Luhansk is reportedly suffering severe shortages of food and medical supplies.

Trojan horse?

Moscow sent an aid convoy of more than 200 trucks, which it says aims to ease the humanitarian situation in the east, but the cargo has been held up at the Ukrainian border since Thursday awaiting approval from customs agents and border officials.

Kyiv has given approval for Russian aid to cross the border only after it has been inspected, and it has raised concerns the convoy of trucks could be a "Trojan horse" of weapons or possibly soldiers to aid the rebels.

Red Cross spokeswoman Galina Balzamova was quoted by AFP on Saturday, saying the international organization had yet to inspect the trucks held up at the border.

"There was a meeting this morning between the Ukrainians and the Russians. We did not participate…We are still waiting for agreement" between them, she said.

The United Nations this week estimated that more than 2,000 people had died in the conflict so far, with nearly 5,000 wounded. Over 285,000 people have fled their homes in the east.

nm/kms (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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