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Ukraine inflicts "high casualties" on rebels

Ukraine's interior minister said on Friday that federal forces had inflicted "high casualties" on separatist rebels led by a Chechen commander in the southeastern port of Mariupol.

KIEV: Ukraine's interior minister said on Friday that federal forces had inflicted "high casualties" on separatist rebels led by a Chechen commander in the southeastern port of Mariupol.

Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the "active phase" of the offensive began at dawn and was still raging three hours later.

He added that two Ukrainian soldiers from the part-volunteer National Guard force were wounded in the fighting.

"The terrorists from the Donetsk People's Republic are being headed by a criminal boss known as 'The Chechen,'" Avakov wrote in a Facebook post.

He said the National Guard unit had destroyed a combat patrol vehicle and several rebel sniper positions.

"The area where the operation is being conducted in central Mariupol has been sealed off," he wrote.

Rebels who seized about a dozen towns and cities in the industrial region of Donetsk and the neighbouring province of Lugansk in early April have proclaimed independence from Kiev and are seeking to join Kremlin rule.

Well-equipped gunmen from Chechnya -- a Russian republic that fought two post-Soviet wars for independence before falling under Kremlin control -- have appeared in growing numbers among the separatists.

Kiev's new leaders and its Western allies accuse the Russian authorities of fomenting the fighting and turning a blind eye to the flow of gunmen and equipment across the border and into eastern Ukraine.

Ukraine's new leader Petro Poroshenko told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday that the reported crossing of three tanks into the east was "unacceptable".

Mariupol witnessed day-long clashes on May 9 that the interior ministry said had claimed 21 lives. Local officials later gave a lower toll.

The two regions have witnessed daily violence that Ukraine's health ministry said had killed 270 civilians and fighters on both sides.

A car blast late Thursday in the heart of Donetsk destroyed the minibus of regional separatist Denis Pushilin and killed three of his guards, according to the local government in Donetsk.

Pushilin was not present at the scene of the apparent attack.

Poroshenko vowed after his May 25 election to end the fighting by the weekend and launch peace talks with militants who have "no blood on their hands".

But his call was largely ignored by the gunmen and previous rounds of negotiations with eastern officials have failed to make an impact on the ground.

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