Ukraine rebels: We will honor the cease-fire

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By MARKO DROBNJAKOVIC

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Turmoil in East Ukraine
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Ukraine rebels: We will honor the cease-fire
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: A photojournalist takes photo of destroyed Ukranian tank during the clashes between Ukranian army and pro-Russian separatists in Donetsk, Ukraine on 28 July, 2014. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: Pro-Russian separatists shot the building during the clashes between Ukranian army in Donetsk, Ukraine on 28 July, 2014. Ukranian army capture the region after the clashes. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: A gas station is destroyed by pro-Russian separatists during the clashes between Ukranian army in Donetsk, Ukraine on 28 July, 2014. Ukranian army capture the region after the clashes. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: A damaged building is seen after the Ukrainian army seized control of the Ukraine's Sievierodonetsk over pro-Russian seperatists on July 28, 2014. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: A damaged building is seen after the Ukrainian army seized control of the Ukraine's Sievierodonetsk over pro-Russian seperatists on July 28, 2014. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: A damaged building is seen after the Ukrainian army seized control of the Ukraine's Sievierodonetsk over pro-Russian seperatists on July 28, 2014. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - JULY 28: A damaged building is seen after the Ukrainian army seized control of the Ukraine's Sievierodonetsk over pro-Russian seperatists on July 28, 2014. (Photo by Soner Kilinc/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A body of a pro-Russian gunman lies in a truck at a checkpoint outside of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk, who was killed during a battle between pro-Russian militiamen and Ukrainian forces in the town of Karlivka on May 23, 2014. At least five people were killed in fighting early Friday between pro-Russian militiamen and Ukrainian forces near the eastern city of Donetsk, an AFP photographer said. Fighting in the east has witnessed a bloody resurgence ahead of Sunday's presidential election that the pro-Russian insurgents have vowed to disrupt. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russian militiamen take a rest at a checkpoint in Pisky, some 15 km from Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, on the road between Donetsk and Krasnoarmiisk, on May 23, 2014. At least five people were killed in fighting early Friday between pro-Russian militiamen and Ukrainian forces near Donetsk, an AFP photographer said. Fighting in the east has witnessed a bloody resurgence ahead of Sunday's presidential election that the pro-Russian insurgents have vowed to disrupt. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russian gunmen stand at a checkpoint outside of the eastern Ukrainian city of Donetsk on May 23, 2014. At least five people were killed in fighting early Friday between pro-Russian militiamen and Ukrainian forces near Donetsk, an AFP photographer said. Fighting in the east has witnessed a bloody resurgence ahead of Sunday's presidential election that the pro-Russian insurgents have vowed to disrupt. AFP PHOTO / DIMITAR DILKOFF *** GRAPHIC CONTENT *** (Photo credit should read DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) and Swiss President and Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter (R) walk into a hall to attend a news conference at the Kremlin in Moscow, on May 7, 2014. Putin called on separatists in east Ukraine on Wednesday to postpone a referendum on independence for the mostly Russian-speaking region and said Moscow had withdrawn troops from the border with Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / POOL / SERGEI KARPUKHIN (Photo credit should read SERGEI KARPUKHIN/AFP/Getty Images)
A Ukrainian military helicopter lands at a checkpoint which troops seized in the early morning in the village of Andreevka, 7 kms from the centre of the southern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, on May 2, 2014. Ukraine's military lost two helicopters and two servicemen on May 2 in a deadly offensive launched just before dawn against pro-Russian rebels holding the flashpoint town of Slavyansk, insurgents and authorities said. AFP PHOTO / VASILY MAXIMOV (Photo credit should read VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)
DONETSK, UKRAINE - MAY 2: The Ukrainian Ministry of Defense announced that four pro-Russian separatists, who shot allegedly two Ukrainian helicopters down detained in Donetsk, Ukraine on May 2, 2014. Two Ukrainian helicopters were shot down, killing a pilot and serviceman during military operations against armed pro-Russian separatists in the east of Slavyansk on Friday. (Photo by Ukrainian Ministry of Defense/Pool/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
A helicopter lands near a tank at a checkpoint seized in the early morning in the village of Andreevka, 7 km from the center of the southern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk, on May 2, 2014. Ukraine's military lost two helicopters and two servicemen on May 2 in a deadly offensive launched just before dawn against pro-Russian rebels holding the flashpoint town of Slavyansk, insurgents and authorities said. AFP PHOTO / VASILY MAXIMOV (Photo credit should read VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A girlfriend and a relative say their goodbyes to a new volunteer recruit of the Ukrainian army 'Azov' battalion after a military oath ceremony in Kiev and before his contingent heads towards eastern regions, on June 23, 2014. Some 600 new volunteer recruits of the battalion, mainly representatives of the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, who followed combat training during three weeks will take part in the military operation against armed pro-Russian militants in the east of the country. Ukraine pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western allies today to help end a pro-Russian uprising that has continued to rage in the industrial east despite Kiev's unilateral ceasefire. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
New volunteer recruits of the Ukrainian army 'Donbass' battalion take a military oath during a ceremony of the National Guard unit near the Novi Petrivtsi village not far from Kiev, on June 23, 2014. Some 600 new volunteer recruits of the battalion, mainly representatives of the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, who followed combat training during three weeks will take part in the military operation against armed pro-Russian militants in the east of the country. Ukraine pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western allies today to help end a pro-Russian uprising that has continued to rage in the industrial east despite Kiev's unilateral ceasefire. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
New volunteer recruits of the Ukrainian army 'Donbass' battalion take part in a military oath ceremony of the National Guard near the Novi Petrivtsi village not far from Kiev, on June 23, 2014. Some 600 new volunteer recruits of the battalion, mainly representatives of the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, who followed combat training during three weeks will take part in the military operation against armed pro-Russian militants in the east of the country. Ukraine pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western allies today to help end a pro-Russian uprising that has continued to rage in the industrial east despite Kiev's unilateral ceasefire. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
New volunteer recruits of the Ukrainian army 'Azov' battalion take part in a military oath ceremony in Kiev, on June 23, 2014. Some 600 new volunteer recruits of the battalion, mainly representatives of the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, who followed combat training during three weeks will take part in the military operation against armed pro-Russian militants in the east of the country. Ukraine pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western allies today to help end a pro-Russian uprising that has continued to rage in the industrial east despite Kiev's unilateral ceasefire. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
A new volunteer recruit of the Ukrainian army 'Donbass' battalion flashes a 'victory sign' during a military oath ceremony of the National Guard near the Novi Petrivtsi village not far from Kiev, on June 23, 2014. Some 600 new volunteer recruits of the battalion, mainly representatives of the eastern Donbass region of Ukraine, who followed combat training during three weeks will take part in the military operation against armed pro-Russian militants in the east of the country. Ukraine pressed German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other Western allies today to help end a pro-Russian uprising that has continued to rage in the industrial east despite Kiev's unilateral ceasefire. AFP PHOTO / SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
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DONETSK, Ukraine (AP) - Insurgents in eastern Ukraine promised Monday to honor a cease-fire declared by the Ukrainian president and engage in more talks to help resolve the conflict that has left hundreds dead in eastern Ukraine.

The announcement came on the first day of talks between a former Ukrainian president, the Russian ambassador, European officials and the eastern separatists who have declared independence.

The negotiations were launched in line with President Petro Poroshenko's peace plan, which started with a weeklong unilateral cease-fire Friday to uproot the mutiny that has engulfed the nation's industrial east.

Alexander Borodai, one of the rebel leaders who took part in Monday's talks in Donetsk, said they would respect the one-week cease-fire declared by Poroshenko that lasts through 0700 GMT (2 a.m. EDT) Friday.

Rebels also promised to release observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe whom they have held hostage.

The insurgents had previously demanded the Ukrainian military withdraw its troops from the east as a condition for talks, so Borodai's statements represented a softening of their stance and raised expectations that the cease-fire could hold.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of fomenting the rebellion in the east by sending troops and weapons across the border, but Moscow has denied that and insisted that Russian citizens who joined the insurgents were volunteers.

The Ukrainian government has accused the rebels of firing at government forces' positions since the unilateral cease-fire was announced, while insurgents have accused the Ukrainian forces of failing to observe it. Poroshenko has said that government troops will fire back if attacked.

Poroshenko's office said Monday that he had offered Russia a chance to send its own observers to join the OSCE mission in Ukraine to see that government troops were observing the cease-fire.

Monday's talks involved Ukraine's ex-President Leonid Kuchma, the Russian ambassador to Ukraine and an envoy from the OSCE.

Russia has welcomed the peace plan but urged the Ukrainian government to engage in talks with the insurgents, who have seized official buildings, declared independence and fought government troops over the past two months. Hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands have fled their homes.

Poroshenko has ruled out talks with those he calls "terrorists," so inviting Kuchma to mediate offered a way to conduct talks without the government's formal engagement.

Kuchma, who served as president from 1994-2005, comes from the east and is an astute political player respected by both sides. His ex-chief of staff, Viktor Medvedchuk, has lived in Russia and reportedly has close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was also at the talks.

"If both sides hopefully observe it (the cease-fire), then a normal peace process could start," Kuchma told reporters after Monday's talks.

Putin publicly expressed support Sunday for Ukraine's declaration of a cease-fire and urged both sides to negotiate a compromise, which must guarantee the rights of the Russian-speaking residents of eastern Ukraine.

Putin clearly intends to maintain pressure on the Ukrainian government in Kiev to give the country's eastern industrial regions more powers, which would allow them to keep close ties with Russia and serve the Kremlin's main goal of preventing Ukraine from joining NATO.

But the Russian leader also wants to avoid more crippling sanctions from the U.S. and particularly from the European Union, whose leaders will meet Friday in Brussels, and therefore needs to be seen as cooperating with efforts to de-escalate the conflict.
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