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Ukraine president issues peace plan to curb insurgency

Ukraine's new Western-backed president on Friday released a sweeping peace plan for curbing a pro-Russian uprising in the separatist east that is threatening the ex-Soviet country's survival.

KIEV: Ukraine's new Western-backed president on Friday released a sweeping peace plan for curbing a pro-Russian uprising in the separatist east that is threatening the ex-Soviet country's survival.

The 14-point initiative's publication followed two calls made by President Petro Poroshenko to Vladimir Putin within 72 hours in the belief that no truce could work without the support of the Russian strongman.

Poroshenko on Thursday also hosted more than a dozen mayors and tycoons from the eastern rustbelt to help win their backing for his plan to try to end 10 weeks of fighting that has killed at least 365 civilians and fighters on both sides.

A Ukrainian military spokesman said on Friday the latest clashes in the east had claimed the lives of seven soldiers and left 30 wounded.

Kiev media published photographs of the document Poroshenko planned to unveil later Friday that demands that the rebels disarm and promises to decentralise power through constitutional reform.

The plan drops criminal charges against fighters who committed no "serious crimes" and provides "a guaranteed corridor for Russian and Ukrainian mercenaries to leave" the conflict zone.

And it establishes a 10-kilometre (six mile) border buffer zone to stem the flow of gunmen and military equipment that both Kiev and Washington claim have been flooding in from Russia in recent weeks.

But it also calls on "local government bodies to resume their operations" -- a demand rejected by separatist leaders who have proclaimed their independence from Kiev and occupied administration buildings in about a dozen cities and towns in the east.

One rebel commander this week dismissed as "meaningless" news that Poroshenko was about to propose a strategy for ending the country's worst crisis in its post-Soviet history.

The plan is officially called "Steps toward a peaceful settlement of the situation in eastern Ukrainian regions" and is intended to stay in force for 10 days from the moment Poroshenko declares a unilateral ceasefire.

Poroshenko promised on Wednesday to order his troops to halt their eastern campaign within a matter of days.

But he also argued that a long-lasting peace could only be established once the 2,000-kilometre (1,200-mile) land border with Russia is fully sealed -- a job acting Defence Minister Mykhailo Koval said his forces had just accomplished.

"Our troops have completely surrounded the troubled regions and restored the state border's control," Koval told parliament.

Putin had earlier bowed to Western pressure and refused to recognise the independence proclaimed by the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions in the wake of disputed May 11 sovereignty referendums.

But he has lobbied for Kiev to turn Ukraine into a federation that provides regional leaders with the right to draft laws and established independent trade relations with nations such as Russia.

The new pro-EU leaders that rose to power after months of deadly protests toppled Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych in February have faced similar pressure from Western leaders.

But Washington and the European Union have stopped short of supporting the "federalisation" idea promoted by Putin and the regional rights outlined in Poroshenko's proposal were constrained.

It guarantees the "protection of the Russian language" and obliges the president to consult local leaders about whom he should appoint as governor.

But it does not give regions the right to elect their own heads of administration -- another key Russian demand.

Putin's official reaction to details of the plan Poroshenko -- elected in a snap May 25 poll that gave him a convincing victory against several pro-Russian rivals --- has been muted.

The Kremlin said Putin made "a series of comments" and stressed the need for the "immediate end to the military operation".

NATO on Thursday reported another unannounced build-up of Russian forces near Ukraine that Alliance chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen called "a very regrettable step backwards".

Rasmussen said the Russian military had deployed "at least a few thousand more" troops in what appeared to be a reversal of the pullback Moscow had begun at the start of the month.

But the Kremlin's official spokesman said the forces were just implementing Putin's earlier instructions to "reinforce the protection of the Russian border".

Poroshenko for his part vowed to sign on June 27 in Brussels the economic portion of a key EU pact whose rejection by Yanukovych in November sparked the initial protests.

The interim government headed by Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk endorsed the political relations portion of the deal in Brussels on March 21.

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