Ukraine Unveils Draft Bills on Rebel Autonomy

Ukraine Unveils Draft Bills on Rebel AutonomyUkraine Unveils Draft Bills on Rebel Autonomy

Ukraine on Monday said it will vote this week on bills granting separatist areas in the east special status in line with a February peace deal, as one soldier died in continuing sporadic clashes.

The bills, submitted by President Petro Poroshenko to parliament at the weekend and whose text became available Monday, fall in line with the commitments by Kiev in the ceasefire deal inked on February 12 in Minsk, AFP reported.

The rebels in the east have threatened to resume fighting unless Kiev follows through on promises given in Minsk to grant rebel areas greater autonomy, although keeping them within Ukraine.

The bills state that rebel-controlled areas in Donetsk and Lugansk regions in the east will attain their “special status” -- giving preference to Russian language and possibly increased cooperation with Russia -- only after holding elections in accordance with Ukrainian law and under international observation.

All armed groups and weapons would also have to disarm or leave Ukraine, and Ukrainian media be allowed to operate in the region, the text of the bill said.

Kiev was obligated under the terms of the Minsk ceasefire to officially recognize the special status of the areas controlled by the self-declared “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Lugansk.

The ceasefire deal, which went into effect on February 15, gave Ukraine one month to demarcate the special territories and begin discussions about local elections.

In the draft bills, the area in question is demarcated by Ukraine’s state border with Russia in the east, the Azov Sea in the south and the frontline between Kiev’s forces and the separatists as defined by the Minsk agreements.

Parliament speaker Volodymyr Groysman said lawmakers will vote on the bills in the coming week.

Russia, however, has already slammed the bills, arguing that Kiev had refused to discuss the legislation with the rebel regions.

“The way things have developed shows that the Ukrainian leadership has chosen the course of rejecting key principles of the Minsk process,” the foreign ministry in Moscow said in a statement. Fighting has mostly halted since the truce was signed. However, sporadic incidents continue.

Security spokesman Andriy Lysenko said one soldier died over the past 24 hours.

OSCE monitors have observed continuing mortar and small arms fire around Donetsk airport, and reported seeing impacts of shelling in the nearby village of Pisky where government soldiers continue to hold out.

Monitors also said that over 100 mortar and tank rounds were fired over the weekend around Shyrokyne village east of Mariupol, including from weapons greater than 100mm caliber which were supposed to have been pulled back under the ceasefire terms.