Ukraine pledges unilateral cease-fire to end unrest

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine said Wednesday it will call a unilateral cease-fire in days to help end three months of clashes with pro-Russian separatists that have rocked its easternmost regions.

President Petro Poroshenko said insurgents will be given a limited window to lay down their arms, with those who haven't committed any serious crimes to be offered an amnesty and safe passage out of the country. He spoke Tuesday by phone with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on how to stem the unrest after two journalists for Russian state television were killed.

"The peace plan will begin with my decree on a unilateral cease-fire," Poroshenko said Wednesday in his website. "The cease- fire will be quite short. We expect that there will be an immediate surrender of weapons, peace and order."

Ukraine has been battling separatists after Russia annexed its Black Sea Crimea peninsula in March. It accuses its neighbor of stoking pro-Russian unrest by supplying weapons, military vehicles and mercenaries. Russia denies aiding the insurgents and is calling on Ukraine to halt an offensive to rein them in. The two nations are also in conflict over gas, with Russia cutting off supplies two days ago because of unpaid bills.

Russia's ruble strengthened for the first time in six days against the dollar, gaining 0.6 percent, while the Micex stock index advanced 0.6 percent, data compiled by Bloomberg show. The yield on Ukrainian dollar debt due 2023 plunged 23 basis points to 9.06 percent, the lowest since June 13.

Poroshenko said preparations have begun to implement his 14-step peace plan, under which a "large part of the peaceful population will take advantage of safety guarantees." He's said previously that before the plan can be undertaken, Ukraine must first reassert control over its border with Russia, from where fighters have crossed into the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

A cease-fire is the "only possible way" to start the peace process, according to Yuri Yakimenko, deputy director at the Razumkov Center in Kiev. "Its effectiveness depends on whether the militants agree," he said by phone.

Spokesmen for the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk weren't reachable on their mobile phones for comment.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev earlier condemned Ukraine over the death of reporter Igor Kornelyuk, killed by mortar fire in the violence-torn Luhansk region in the nation's east. Sound producer Anton Voloshin, also from the Russian State Television and Radio Broadcasting Company, was found dead later, the Interfax news service said, citing separatist forces.

"Those who call themselves the authorities in neighboring Ukraine answer for the situation there and it's in their power to halt the bloodshed," Medvedev said on his Facebook account.

Poroshenko ordered a probe into the deaths, as did the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has tried to broker a peace plan.

Russia should sanction Ukrainian leaders responsible for civilian deaths, Alexey Pushkov, chairman of the lower house of parliament's international affairs committee, told reporters in Moscow today. Ukraine isn't doing anything to implement its peace plan, Pushkov said.

Hundreds have died in east Ukraine, including servicemen, insurgents and civilians. The number of government troops to have lost their lives since the unrest began has reached 147, Interfax reported Wednesday, citing Defense Ministry medical official Vitaly Andronatiy.

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