August 28, 2017 / 5:43 PM / a month ago

Merkel, Macron urge Russia, Ukraine to step up peace efforts

French President Emmanuel Macron (R) greets German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she arrives for talks on EU integration, defense and migration at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, August 28, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday called for Russia and Ukraine to increase their efforts to implement a fragile ceasefire agreement in eastern Ukraine.

The conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists has claimed more than 10,000 lives since it erupted in 2014. Germany and France have tried to convince both sides to implement a peace deal agreed in Minsk in 2015 but with little success so far.

Merkel and Macron said they were concerned that the security situation in eastern Ukraine had not significantly improved since they held a four-way telephone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko in the so-called Normandy format on Aug. 22.

“We urge President Putin and President Poroshenko to fully respect their commitments, to support the ceasefire in a public and clear manner, and to ensure that appropriate instructions have been sent to the military and local forces,” they said in a joint statement issued by the chancellery in Berlin.

They said the ceasefire agreement was still violated too often, including with the use of heavy weapons. They called on all parties to provide observers from the OSCE security watchdog with safe and unimpeded access to areas within the battle zones.

“The OSCE observer mission continues to report threats to its staff and restrictions on their freedom of movement, particularly in the areas not controlled by the Ukrainian government,” Merkel and Macron said.

Both the European Union and the United States imposed broad economic sanctions on Russia’s financial, defence and energy sectors in response to Moscow’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and its direct support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow denies direct involvement in the conflict despite NATO’s assertions its troops are supporting the rebels.

Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Alison Williams

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