France, Germany demand 'real progress' on Ukraine peace talks

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Paris (AFP)

France and Germany expect "real progress" from Ukraine and Russia on resolving the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Thursday ahead of talks between the four countries in Paris.

"We are meeting in a critical phase in the implementation of the Minsk accords," said Steinmeier, referring to the peace plan signed last year in the Belarus capital.

He was heading into talks with France's newly appointed foreign minister, Jean-Marc Ayrault, and their counterparts from Russia and Ukraine, Pavlo Klimkine and Sergei Lavrov.

"We will say very clearly... we must really advance, first in consolidating the ceasefire and secondly in restarting the political process," said Steinmeier.

Signed in February 2015 with French and German mediation, the Minsk accord calls for a ceasefire along with a range of political, economic and social measures to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine that has claimed some 9,000 lives since it began in early 2014.

Although violence has greatly diminished, there has been scant progress on other aspects of the accord in recent months.

During a visit to Ukraine last month, the Ayrault and Steinmeier called on the government to pursue the needed reforms to allow local elections to take place in the east.

But Kiev has insisted there must be a total cessation of hostilities before holding the polls.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of militarily supporting the separatist rebels in order to keep the country destablised, which Moscow denies.