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KIEV — Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko warned Tuesday that he would consider scrapping the conditions of a September truce with pro-Russian separatists, in the wake of what he referred to as “illegal” elections in the country’s east.

The disputed vote was held on Sunday in the Donbass region that includes Donetsk and Luhansk. For months the area has been beset by violent conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces.

Russia backed the outcome of the vote, which overwhelmingly supported the separatists, while the United States, the European Union, and Ukraine rejected it.

On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out on any moves to end international sanctions against Russia amid the continuing tensions.

“There is currently no reason to repeal them,” Merkel told a meeting of the Federation of German Employers (BDA) in Berlin, and called on Moscow to use its influence over the separatists to implement the ceasefire agreement reached in Minsk in September.

The ceasefire protocol signed by the government and militants established special conditions for the region, including stipulating that local elections would have to be held under Ukrainian law.

After being ratified by Ukraine’s Parliament in late September, the ceasefire law grants partial autonomy and amnesty for the region for three years. It also grants the right to maintain armed units to those districts held by separatists.

Separatist leader Denis Pushilin dismissed Poroshenko’s threats, warning the government in Kiev against jeopardizing the peace process.

The pro-Western leadership has “stalled for time, leaving the people of Donbass in the dark for too long,” Pushilin said on Russian television channel Rossiya 24 in reference to the area affected by the armed rebellion.
He added that repealing the law was no great threat, characterizing it as ineffective.

Sunday’s election winners were due to take power on Tuesday. The separatists declared their independence from Ukraine in the spring, with their leaders saying they were in favour of joining Russia at a later stage.

Since then, more than 3,600 people have been killed in the conflict, which emerged following the removal of Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych in a popular uprising in February.

Meanwhile, a rebel commander stated that pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine were in possession of anti-aircraft missiles as a Malaysian Airlines passenger jet was shot down in July.

The admission by Commander Alexander Khodakovski in an interview published Tuesday in the Dutch daily De Volkskrant contradicts prior statements by the rebels on the matter.

Khodakovski however denied that rebels fired at the jet MH17, which had 298 people on board.

“A Buk-system was travelling from Luhansk to the area, but was not yet in place,” Khodakovski said referring to a Russian-built system of surface-to-air missiles.

The cause of MH17’s July 17 demise has still not been clarified.

AFP News/Alexander Khudoteply

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