Ukraine Ceasefire Holds Despite Sporadic Gunfire

The ceasefire in Ukraine appears to be holding despite occasional shelling and gunfire close to a flashpoint town in the country’s east.Artillery and mortar fire has been heard around Debaltseve, a strategically important town on the frontline of the fight between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian separatists.

The guns fell silent early on Sunday morning as a ceasefire agreement came into effect.

The agreement was reached following talks in the Belarus capital Minsk, led by France and Germany.

Pro-Russian rebels indicated that they would not observe the truce at Debaltseve, where Ukrainian forces have been largely surrounded.

Senior rebel commander Eduard Basurin said: “Of course we can open fire (on Debaltseve). It is our territory.”

A statement released by Kiev said the “enemy” was carrying out attacks in the region using Grad rockets.

It said the military had a plan to try to re-take control of Debaltseve.

In Paris, French President Francois Hollande declared that observance of the ceasefire was “generally satisfactory” despite some “local incidents”.

Mr Hollande spoke to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in a four-way phone call with the leaders of Germany and Russia on Sunday.

Mr Poroshenko emphasised in the call that the ceasefire should be implemented all along the frontline, “including the area of Debaltseve,” according to a statement from his office.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which is responsible for monitoring the ceasefire, said rebels had denied observers access to Debaltseve.

Both sides have blamed the other for the firing.

The town sits astride a railway junction in a pocket of territory between the two main rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk.

In the main rebel centre, Donetsk, artillery fire was reported every few seconds in the hours before the ceasefire, but halted at midnight local time.

The ceasefire, negotiated in all-night talks involving Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany on Thursday, preludes the creation of a buffer zone and the withdrawal of heavy weapons.

More than 5,000 people have been killed in the conflict that has led to sanctions against Russia, which the West accuses of transporting weapons and troops into Ukraine – a claim Russia denies.

The United Nations Security Council has so far failed to adopt a resolution calling on all parties to implement the ceasefire deal, despite a frenzy of diplomatic activity.

The body’s 15 members had been due to vote on a Russian-drafted resolution but some of the members, like Malaysia, wanted further discussion over the wording.

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