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Ukraine ceasefire talks begin but fighting continues

Fighting raged Friday (Sep 5) as Ukraine prepared to sign a Kremlin-backed truce with insurgents that could halt five months of bloodshed.

MINSK: Ukraine, Russia and pro-Russian insurgents opened ceasefire talks in Minsk on Friday (Sep 5) in an attempt to stop nearly five months of war that have plunged Russian-Western relations into crisis.

A Belarussian official in Minsk confirmed to AFP that the negotiations, which also include representatives from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe, had begun.

"We have come here for peace," Ukraine's representative, former president Leonid Kuchma. "We will talk about a ceasefire and what needs to be done for it.”

"I hope they will agree on something," Russia's ambassador to Minsk Alexander Surikov said for his part.

Russia's representative in the Contact Group, Moscow's ambassador to Ukraine Mikhail Zurabov, said he expected documents to be signed, but he did not elaborate.

The separatists are represented by leaders from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic and Lugansk People's Republic, including rebel prime minister Alexander Zakharchenko.

Russia denies being actively involved in the war, but Ukraine and the Western NATO alliance say that regular Russian troops and tanks are fighting on the rebels' side. The negotiations follow talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko in Minsk last week.

Combat continued on the outskirts of the strategic Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Friday, threatening to undermine the Minsk talks.