No special status for east Ukraine without ceasefire: president

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine will not give its eastern regions greater autonomy until a lasting ceasefire with pro-Russian separatist rebels is in place, President Petro Poroshenko said on Sunday, in comments that could antagonize the rebels and the Kremlin.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko speaks during a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine, January 14, 2016. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Ukraine’s parliament had been due to vote this week on legislation to devolve more power to its regions, including the disputed Luhansk and Donetsk areas, as part of a ceasefire agreed between Moscow and Kiev last year.

Any attempt to delay the reform threatens to derail the peace process, which was already under strain. Both Ukrainian troops and the pro-Russian rebels have complained of rising ceasefire violations since the tail end of 2015.

Poroshenko said he would not allow lawmakers to cancel the vote for the decentralization reform. But in the same breath, he threw his support behind those parliamentarians who wanted a series of conditions to be met before voting could take place.

These include a “ceasefire and a long period of a full silence. This is what Russia has to ensure, and the world needs to see that it happens,” he told reporters.

Another condition is giving international monitors unfettered access to the border between Ukraine and Russia to monitor the flow of troops and arms into eastern Ukraine.

After a period of relative calm, both rebels and the Ukrainian government have complained of more violations of the ceasefire negotiated as part of the Minsk deal. Both say heavy artillery that was meant to have been withdrawn is being used.

The leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia negotiated the Minsk peace deal in February and the West has tied its implementation to any loosening of economic sanctions on Russia.

More than 9,000 people have been killed in the conflict, which erupted in April 2014 after a Moscow-backed president fled power in the face of street protests in Kiev.

Speaking after Poroshenko, Ukraine’s parliamentary speaker confirmed that lawmakers had delayed discussions on the decentralization reform.

“We are not planning to include this issue on the agenda of the parliament session this week,” Volodymyr Groysman told the TV channel Inter. “Discussions continue ... we need some additional time for discussions with political parties.”

Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Digby Lidstone