New round of talks on Ukraine crisis to be held in Paris

The foreign ministers of Russia, Germany and Ukraine will gather Tuesday in Paris to discuss the Ukraine crisis, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Friday, as President François Hollande welcomed German Chancellor Angela Merkel for talks.

News of the fresh round of diplomacy on Ukraine next week came as Hollande and Merkel warned that fresh sanctions could be implemented if the “Minsk II” ceasefire deal signed February 12 in the Belarusian capital continues to be ignored.

"The ceasefire has been violated several times. It must now be fully respected along the entire front line," Hollande told a joint press conference with Merkel following bilateral talks in Paris on Friday.

Hollande said that “every country that doesn’t keep its word” risks sanctions.

The ceasefire, brokered by France and Germany and signed by Russia and Ukraine, came into effect at midnight on Saturday, but any hopes of bringing an end to the conflict that has ravaged eastern Ukraine for the past year were quickly dashed as fighting continued to rage between government and rebel forces.

The strategic railway hub of Debaltseve has been the scene of particularly bloody exchanges in recent days, with pro-Russian separatists forcing government troops into a humiliating retreat.

But Western leaders are refusing to give up on the ceasefire deal, with officials expressing hope that the truce can be revived now that the rebels have achieved their goal of capturing Debaltseve.

Hollande and Merkel said Friday that they were "even more convinced" that the only solution rested on the implementation of the latest Minsk agreement, including the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the front and a prisoner exchange.

"It's difficult. It will take a long time, we don't have any illusions. And having seen how the negotiations have unfolded, it will not be a process that will move forward easily," said Merkel.

Greece 'must stay in eurozone'

Hollande and Merkel also used Friday’s talks to address the debt crisis in Greece ahead of a key meeting by eurozone finance ministers later on Friday to discuss a request by Athens for a six-month extension to its loan programme.

Merkel said there needs to be a “significant improvement” in Greece's request for further aid from its creditors, but she underlined her wish to keep the country in the eurozone.

The German position "since the beginning of the Greek programme" had been that Greece remain in the single-currency bloc, she said, adding that Berlin "will do everything to continue along this path".

"Greece is in the eurozone. Greece must stay in the eurozone," Hollande added.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)

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