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Ukraine

Ukrainian President Poroshenko announces week-long cease-fire in eastern Ukraine

A cease-fire is to begin in eastern Ukraine in the coming hours, according to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Under the truce, separatists will have until June 27 to disarm.

Fighting in Ukraine was to officially be stopped for one week beginning later in the evening, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko announced on Friday.

"Today, on June 20, the ceasefire should begin. It will last through June 27," Poroshenko said while visiting the Donetsk region.

"Combat action will only be of a retaliatory character if rebels attack our forces," the Ukrainian president said.

Shortly after the announcement, a separatist leader reportedly rejected the terms, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

"No one will lay down their arms until a full troop withdrawal from our land," Valeriy Bolotov - the leader of the Lugansk People's Republic, the second eastern Ukrainian region to declare autonomy from Kyiv - said.

Clashes between Ukrainian security forces and pro-Moscow separatists have gripped eastern Ukraine since April. There, armed militants have claimed autonomy from Kyiv, which they consider an illegitimate government, installed illegally after the ouster of former President Viktor Yanukovych.

The continued deadly fighting between the two forces has worried Western leaders, who fear that a failure to deescalate tensions could plunge Ukraine deeper into armed conflict.They have also criticized Russian President Vladimir Putin for allowing weapons and money to flow into the hands of the separatists, rather than using his influence to halt the fighting.

Russia criticizes ceasefire

Moscow dismissed the week-long truce, criticizing Poroshenko's motives.

"This is not an invitation to peace and negotiations, but an ultimatum to militias in the southeast of Ukraine to lay down their arms," the Kremlin said in a statement, according to Russian media.

It also said the announcement had coincided "deliberately or accidentally" with an attack by Ukrainian forces on a Russian checkpoint near the border, adding that it expected an explanation regarding the incident.

Peace plan

Poroshenko's cease-fire announcement was released several hours after a peace plan designed to end the separatist uprising.

As part of the 14-point proposal, rebels would disarm in return for the decentralization of power in Ukraine through constitutional reform. Fighters not guilty of "serious crimes" would be granted amnesty. A 10-kilometer (6.25-mile) demilitarized zone would also be created along the Ukraine-Russia border to reduce the flow of arms into Ukraine.

Russia sends troops to border

The Kremlin on Friday announced it had sent armed forces near Ukraine, with a spokesperson for President Vladimir Putin saying the move had been planned for several weeks.

"In this case we cannot speak of any concentration of troops other than measures to reinforce the protection of Russia's borders, which are being carried out on President Vladimir Putin's direct orders," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov said the deployment had been discussed with Western partners and criticism of it was therefore "surprising."

On Thursday, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen labeled Russia's move to send a few thousand more troops to the border as a "very regrettable step backwards."

That same day, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande telephoned Putin, calling on him to convince pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine's east to lay down their arms.

kms/jr (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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