Hours after a truce that was supposed to end 10 months of fighting took effect in Ukraine, a group of pro-Russia rebels refused to comply and continued shelling the besieged city of Debaltseve.
The ceasefire was declared Sunday after a week of round-the-clock negotiations led by France and Germany, but separatists that have encircled the strategic town of Debaltseve — where heavy fighting has occurred recently — said the agreement did not apply to them.
"Of course we can open fire," Eduardo Basurin, a senior rebel commander of forces near Debaltseve, told Reuters. "It's our territory. The territory is internal: ours. And internal is internal. But along the line of confrontation there is no shooting."
Video footage recorded Sunday showed a fierce battle raging in Lohvynove, a short distance from Debaltseve.
Debaltseve sits at a railroad junction about halfway between the rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk. Ukraine's president has said ending fighting in the city was a critical part of the ceasefire.
"I think the fact of using the tense situation on the outskirts of Debaltseve by militants-terrorists-mercenaries poses a great threat, which can violate the regime," President Petro Poroshenko said in a statement Sunday.
Poroshenko warned that he would impose martial law in the city if rebels continued fighting, CNN reported. Reuters said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment on Basurin's remarks and did not specify whether Debaltseve was part of the ceasefire.
Members of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) — the group responsible for monitoring the ceasefire — said rebels blocked them from entering Debaltseve on Sunday. They also noted that firing has indeed continued in the town. Both the rebels and the Ukrainian military blamed the firing on the enemy.
The US government, which recently accused Russia of deploying heavy arms to Ukraine, also expressed concern over the clashes in Debaltseve leading up to the ceasefire.
While the Debaltseve combat was disconcerting for peace advocates, other parts of eastern Ukraine were quiet Sunday — to the point that Ukrainian troops seized a rare chance to play soccer near the town Svitlodarsk, which is on the road to Debaltseve.
Still, many officials and civilians are skeptical that the latest truce will provide a lasting peace. Several residents of eastern Ukraine told the BBC that they believed the ceasefire would only last a few days.
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