BRUSSELS Feb 19 NATO leaders echoed the United
States on Wednesday in urging Ukraine's armed forces to stay out
of the crisis there, warning Kiev that its relations with the
Western alliance would suffer if the military did intervene.
"I strongly urge the Ukrainian government to refrain from
further violence. If the military intervenes against the
opposition, Ukraine's ties with NATO will be seriously damaged,"
NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in a
Rasmussen's warning came after Ukrainian President Viktor
Yanukovich appointed a new head of the armed forces general
staff after street clashes between protesters and police in
which at least 26 people have been killed since Tuesday.
Ukraine's defense ministry also said that the armed forces
might take part in a countrywide anti-terrorist operation
organised by the state security service. It has previously said
that troops could only be used domestically if a state of
emergency were declared.
Separately, NATO's top military commander appealed to
Ukraine's leaders on Wednesday to avoid using military force
against their people and called for dialogue with the country's
new military leadership.
In Twitter messages, U.S. Air Force General Philip
Breedlove, NATO's Supreme Allied Commander Europe, asked that
"responsible leaders avoid the use of military force against the
people of Ukraine."
"I am calling upon the new military leadership in Ukraine to
open a dialogue with us to bring this situation to a peaceful
resolution," Breedlove said.
Earlier, U.S. President Barack Obama had called on Ukraine's
armed forces to stay out of the country's political crisis while
the Pentagon renewed warnings for Ukraine to keep its military
away from anti-government protests.
While Ukraine is not presently seeking membership in the
Western military alliance, it does cooperate with NATO in a
number of areas. Twenty-eight of its soldiers participate in the
NATO-led force in Afghanistan.