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One month in, Ukraine truce exists in name only

06 october 2014, 14:56

 Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels marked a month since the signing of a Kremlin-backed truce on Sunday by engaging in one of the most heated battles of their six-month war over the ex-Soviet state's eastern rustbelt, AFP reports.

The artillery blasts that rocked the frontline city of Donetsk were yet another blow to the 12-point peace agreement signed on September 5, and which is officially still in force.

"There is no ceasefire. You hear?" 31-year-old resident Yekaterina Manannikova said, pointing in the direction of Donetsk airport, once a glittering showcase for the biggest city in the east, now the battered scene of a non-stop firefight.

"Peace is already declared, how many times should it be declared to be effective? Two, three times?" said another local, Vitaliy Chura, 29, blaming the separatists for the continued fighting.

The agreement -- aimed at ending almost six months of war that has claimed over 3,300 lives -- included a promise to create a 30-kilometre (20-mile) buffer zone between the two forces.

But Ukraine's military says Kiev will not start pulling back forces until rebels stop firing on its positions, including at the airport.

On Sunday, military spokesman Volodymyr Polyovy said rebels had launched two more airport attacks "with support of tanks" over the past 24 hours, but were repelled.

Two soldiers and at least three civilians died, putting the death toll since the ceasefire at 80, excluding rebel losses.

A recent statement by the Donetsk rebels on their official website listed the damage to the city over the past days and concluded: "The truce is worse than the battle."

Despite the continuing carnage, both sides have stopped short of declaring the truce dead.

Russian and Ukrainian soldiers have even created a monitoring contact group together with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) to patrol the frontline.

France and Germany will also send drones "in the coming days" to monitor the ceasefire, French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Sunday.

But in Donetsk, shells were still falling over the neighbourhood of Gladkivka north of the centre, according to AFP correspondents.

Firefighters put out blazes engulfing a number of houses in the area. No one appeared to be hurt, with neighbours saying the owners had all fled the conflict months ago.

   A useful fiction 

 Analysts say it is in all the major parties' interests to maintain the fiction that the ceasefire is holding.

Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko wants to give an impression of peace ahead of snap parliamentary polls on October 26, and is keen to see as many eastern cities participate as possible.

"Society wants to see an end to the war. Politicians are trying to respond to these demands, and will keep talking about the truce even if, de-facto, it doesn't exist," said political analyst Taras Berezovets.

Moscow would not be eager to pronounce the ceasefire dead either, he added, saying that "for Russia, it pays to keep destabilising the situation in Ukraine".

"This 'ceasefire' can keep going for months."

European Union countries also prefer to cling on to a poorly working truce rather than deepen its standoff with Russia -- its leading source of gas -- as winter approaches.

The French defence minister said the truce was holding everywhere "but Donetsk".

"We are in the process of reflecting with the Germans on how we can both reinforce the monitoring of the ceasefire in the buffer zone," Le Drian told French radio.

Meanwhile, the Red Cross announced it was suspending operations in eastern Ukraine following the death of a Swiss staffer on Thursday in Donetsk.

"We're halting work for some time. We have to evaluate the situation. We want to help people but we have to find a balance between help and security of our staff," spokeswoman Viktoria Zotikova told AFP on Sunday.

Ukrainian and rebel forces have blamed each other for the death.

Increasingly alarmed Western countries have issued a barrage of stern warnings for the two sides to stick to last month's agreement, and Berlin is even mulling sending 200 troops to help monitor the ceasefire, German media reported on Saturday.

"Peace has been signed but guns are the only power that can decide things here," said Donetsk resident Olga, 42.

"We don't feel any ceasefire."

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