Hollande, Merkel to travel to Ukraine, Russia with peace plan

French President François Hollande announced on Thursday that he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel to Ukraine later in the day for talks on ending the country’s ongoing crisis, before heading to Russia on Friday.

“Together with Angela Merkel we have decided to take a new initiative,” Hollande told a news conference. “We will make a new proposal to solve the conflict which will be based on Ukraine’s territorial integrity.”

He said that he and Merkel had worked together over the last several days to draft a text they hoped would be acceptable to both sides of the conflict. He added that France was not in favour of Ukraine joining NATO.

“It will not be said that France and Germany together have not tried everything, undertaken everything to preserve the peace,” the French president said.

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Ukraine’s capital Kiev earlier on Thursday in a show of diplomatic support for the country’s government.

Fierce fighting has flared in eastern Ukraine in recent weeks, with pro-Russian separatists formally dropping out of peace negotiations and launching a new offensive.

The separatists have been concentrating their advance on Debaltseve, a rail hub between their two main strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk, where a government garrison has held out despite being nearly encircled.

Ukraine and its Western allies accuse Russia of arming and funding the separatists, as well as backing the latest advance with Russian troops on the ground. Moscow denies any involvement.

More than 5,000 people have been killed in Ukraine since the beginning of the crisis in mid-April of last year, according to the United Nations.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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