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Ukrainian leader hopes for progress in peace talks on east

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine’s president said Wednesday he hopes that a meeting with leaders of Russia, France and Germany will help advance a resolution to a five-year separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Fighting between Russia-backed separatist rebels and Ukrainian troops has killed more than 13,000 people since 2014. Volodymyr Zelenskiy said during a visit to the region that the talks in Paris set for Dec. 9 should allow Ukraine to regain control of the rebel-held east. He said a lasting end to hostilities, the return of prisoners and the holding of local elections are among the priorities.

The meeting will focus on the implementation of a 2015 peace plan brokered by France and Germany. The Minsk agreement envisioned broad autonomy for the separatist regions and an amnesty for the rebels — provisions that were never implemented.

“There must be a serious truce and a serious cease-fire with clear terms and obligations,” Zelenskiy said. Zelenskiy, the 41-year-old comedian who had no experience in politics, was elected in a landslide in April on promises to end the fighting in the east and combat endemic corruption.

His approval of a tentative plan for elections in the east and the disengagement of forces in the east has angered Ukrainian far-right activists who denounced it as a capitulation to Moscow. Zelenskiy emphasized that Ukraine must regain control of the border with Russia in the rebel regions.

The Minsk deal envisaged that Ukraine could regain control of the border after local elections are held in the east. Russian President Vladimir Putin said at a business conference in Moscow that Ukrainian officials’ statements on a possible revision of the Minsk deal are “unacceptable and counterproductive.”

At the same time, Putin hailed the recent pullback of forces in several areas in the east as a positive sign and described Zelenskiy as “sympathetic and sincere.” “I believe that he really wants to change the situation for the better,” Putin said of the Ukrainian president.

Associated Press writer Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.

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