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Ukrainian troops forced to withdraw from Donetsk airport

Oleksandr Stashevskiy, AFP | People ride a Ukrainian tank past a damaged vehicle in the village of Tonenke, some 5 kilometers from the Donetsk airport on January 19.

Ukraine's military said Thursday that attacks by pro-Russian insurgents had forced it to abandon Donetsk's devastated airport after days of fighting as a mortar struck a civilian bus in the rebel-held city, killing at least 12 civilians.

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Defence officials said fighting around the ruins of the Donetsk air hub -- once one of Eastern Europe's busiest and most modern -- continued despite the deaths of six Ukrainian troops and capture of 16 more by separatists overnight.

Military spokesman Vladislav Seleznyov said 10 Ukrainian soldiers were killed overnight, including six at the airport complex, where a small group of government defenders have been holding out against Russian-backed separatists for months.

“We continue to control the southern part of the airport ... we left the new terminal because it looks like a sieve and there’s simply nowhere to hide there,” Seleznyov said.

At least 13 civilians were killed also on Thursday when a shell hit a public transport stop in Donetsk, regional officials said.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk said Russia bore reponsibility for the shelling because it supplied pro-Moscow fighters with heavy weapons and backed them up with army troops, charges Moscow flatly denies.

"Russian terrorists again committed a horrible act against humanity," Yatseniuk said in a statement published on the government's website.

"And responsiblity for this is borne by the Russian Federation."

A Reuters cameraman saw six bodies near, and inside, a gutted trolleybus in Bosse, a southern district of the city. A video clip showed the hulk of the trolleybus with its windows blown out and smoke pouring from a nearby passenger car.

Rebel leaders said "sabotage" was to blame. Vladimir Kononov, a separatist official, said: “A sabotage group was at work. This group has been detained.”

The defence ministry earlier said the incident could not have been caused by a Ukrainian shell because Ukrainian forces were 15 km (9 miles) away.*

Talks continue

Modest progress appeared to have been made in four-way talks late on Wednesday in Berlin involving Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France on the crisis.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said foreign ministers had agreed a “demarcation line” between pro-Russian fighters and Kiev’s forces from which withdrawal of heavy weapons could start. There were no details.

A joint statement issued by the German foreign ministry said tangible progress on implementation of a 12-point protocol drawn up in Minsk in September had to be achieved before a summit was possible.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin tweeted: ”Nobody won and nobody lost.”

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

 

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