One dead as renewed fighting rattles Ukraine truce

One dead as renewed fighting rattles Ukraine truce

MARIUPOL, Ukraine - Fighting around two flashpoint cities in eastern Ukraine on Sunday rattled a tenuous truce between government troops and pro-Russian rebels less than 48 hours after it came into force.

Insurgent militias bombarded a government-held checkpoint on the eastern edge of the port city of Mariupol overnight, local officials said, killing one woman and triggering panic among residents.

Artillery fire was also heard near the main rebel stronghold of Donetsk, AFP correspondents said, with the Ukrainian government accusing separatist gunmen of trying to attack the city's airport.

The violence erupted just hours after a phone call between Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, who agreed that the ceasefire was "generally being observed".

EU leaders plan to put further pressure on Russia over its alleged support for the insurgents by approving fresh sanctions Monday on its defence and oil companies But the bloc's President Herman Van Rompuy on Sunday said these steps could be reviewed "if the ceasefire is durable, and/or if the peace talks start".

"The most important thing was to achieve a ceasefire," he said.

"There have been a few incidents. We have to wait a bit to see if these incidents will continue or if they are exceptions." The 12-point pact signed in Minsk on Friday was the first to win the backing of both Kiev and Moscow after five months of warfare that set off the deepest crisis in East-West relations for a generation.

But it delays difficult decisions about the status of the two rebel-run regions of Donetsk and Lugansk until later negotiations, which one separatist leader said may begin in about a week.

'Unable to sleep'

The peace plan was drawn up after the rebels - reportedly backed by Russian troops and firepower - launched a lightning counter-offensive in late August that dramatically reversed recent gains by the Ukrainian army and set alarm bells ringing over Moscow's territorial ambitions.

Mariupol residents have for days been fearful of an insurgent assault in what analysts see as a possible land grab to carve out a corridor between Russia and the Crimean peninsula annexed by Moscow in March.

The situation was calm in the Sea of Azov port city Sunday but several buildings and vehicles were damaged.

"I want peace but I think this ceasefire is finished, this is the third night we haven't been able to sleep," one 46-year-old woman who gave her name only as Victoria told AFP.

Both sides had accused the other of violating the truce within hours of its signing, raising fears it could go the way of a unilateral ceasefire called by Kiev in June that collapsed within days.

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