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Armed Conflict

More heavy fighting between rebels, government forces in eastern Ukraine

Heavy fighting has again been reported in eastern Ukraine, as government troops seek to retake the rebel-held city of Slovyansk. Casualties have been reported on both sides.

Tuesday's clashes came as part of an offensive by Ukrainian government troops aimed at dislodging pro-Russia separatists from the eastern Ukraine city of Slovyansk.

Vladyslav Selznyov, a Ukrainian military spokesman, told the Reuters news agency late on Tuesday that two soldiers had been killed and 42 others wounded since the latest offensive had begun around 12 hours earlier.

He put the number of casualties on the rebel side at around 300. None of these figures could be immediately verified.

The Associated Press, meanwhile, cited a message posted by Interior Minister Arsen Avakov on the social media website Facebook, claiming that government troops had broken through rebel positions at a village just to the east of Slovyansk.

The news agency Interfax, meanwhile, quoted the leader of the pro-Russia separatists in Slovyansk as saying that his forces had shot down a Ukrainian jet and helicopter gunship. This was denied by the Selzynov, the Ukrainian military spokesman.

"Information that Ukrainian planes and helicopters have been shot down is not true," he said. "Yesterday one of the helicopters received holes from small-arms fire," he added.

This too could not be independently confirmed.

More than 180 killed

Meanwhile, Ukraine's acting chief prosecutor, Oleh Makhnitskiy said a total of 181 people, including 59 servicemen had been killed and 293 others wounded since the fighting broke out in April.

Also on Tuesday US President Barack Obama was in Warsaw, where he unvielded a $1 billion plan to boost security for eastern Europe. At the same time, the Ukraine crisis topped the agenda as NATO defense ministers kicked off a two-day conference in Brussels to reassess Europe's long-term security.

Tuesday's clashes came a day after hundreds of separatists attacked Ukrainian border guard camp on the outskirts of Luhansk, which is also under rebel control. The border guard service said they had repelled the attack, killing five rebels.

In Luhansk itself, at least two people were killed in an explosion, which the separatists said was the result of an air strike carried out by government forces. The Ukrainian side denied this, saying the blast was likely the result of a misfire of a heat-seeking missile by the rebels.

pfd/ipj (AP, Reuters)

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