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By Nikolaus von Twickel, dpa

MOSCOW — Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Friday declared a one-week, unilateral cease-fire to try and end the bloody conflict with pro-Russian insurgents in the country’s east.

The truce will last until June 27 in order to allow the “terrorists” to lay down their arms, Poroshenko said in a statement published on the Interior Ministry’s website.

“Military action will only be carried out in response, that is when rebels attack our forces,” said the President.

He spoke at a military camp in Sviatohirsk, a town in the eastern Donetsk region only a few kilometers from the conflict zone. It was the first time Poroshenko visited the area since assuming office two weeks ago.

The truce is the first step in a 14-point peace plan that also includes an amnesty and a pledge for constitutional reform.

Western leaders praised the plan, but Poroshenko’s decree was immediately denounced by Moscow and rejected by separatists.

“It is not a truce invitation but an ultimatum to south-eastern militia to lay down arms,” the Kremlin said in a statement that also criticized the peace plan for lacking a proposal on starting negotiations, according to the Interfax news agency.

“No one will lay down their arms,” said Miroslav Rudenko, a separatist leader in the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic.

Other rebels said they did not believe the government’s truce announcement.

“We have heard of a hundred cease-fires on the part of the National Guard and the Ukrainian army. But the military operations have not stopped for a minute,” said Alexander Purgin, another separatist leader in Donetsk.

Ukrainian forces have kept up pressure on insurgents’ positions in the Donetsk region, where the separatists blockaded access to their stronghold of Sloviansk, according to local news reports.

Twelve Ukrainian soldiers were killed and 25 injured in a battle with separatists in the region late Thursday, authorities confirmed.

A Ukrainian Defense Ministry spokesman, Vladislav Seleznyov, added that some 200 separatists had been killed in the fighting late Thursday close to the city of Artemivsk. The claim — which he made on his Facebook, citing preliminary figures — could not be verified independently.

There were also reports of fresh fighting between insurgents and government troops along the border with Russia.

An unnamed spokesman of the “Luhansk People’s Republic” told Russia’s Interfax news agency that there had been fighting with government forces at three border crossings.

Ukrainian border guards have in recent weeks surrendered a number of frontier posts after attacks by separatist forces. The government in Kiev accuses Russia of facilitating the entry of arms and volunteer fighters through the porous border.

Poroshenko has said that securing the border with Russia is a vital condition for the peace plan’s implementation.

AFP Photo/Sergei Supinsky

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