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Ukrainian leader proposes cease-fire, but separatists scoff

DONETSK, Ukraine — After Ukraine’s new president, Petro Poroshenko, told reporters in Kiev on Wednesday that he might soon order a temporary, unilateral cease-fire as part of a broader 14-point peace plan, it took all of several seconds for pro-Russian militants to rule it out.

“I am a condemned man,” said a stick-thin fighter who, like many others here, identified himself only by an alias, Tarik, for security reasons. Sipping tea in the gloom of the lobby of Donetsk’s rebel-occupied administration building Wednesday, he patted the magazine of the automatic rifle slung across his chest.

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Any cease-fire would certainly be violated by the Ukrainian army, he said, adding that he and other pro-Russian separatists would be arrested the minute the government had the opportunity.

“What peace can they possibly offer me?” he asked. “If they want peace, then they can leave.”

Tarik and a dozen other rank-and-file fighters here reacted to Poroshenko’s proposal with a dark, belligerent skepticism. Most rejected the idea of disarming until a patchwork of amorphous conditions were met, suggesting that a truce will be awfully difficult to achieve.

Some demanded that the Ukrainian military leave the region, called Donbass, while others wanted a war tribunal for Ukraine’s newly elected leaders. Most said they wanted the restoration of “stability,” the precise definition of which remained elusive.

“Maybe there was a way back when this all just started, when the people were out here with the flags to make their point, and before the killing,” said Denis, a separatist fighter from Makeyevka, a depressed industrial town outside of Donetsk, when asked how and when the conflict might be resolved.

Another fighter jumped in helpfully. “The Third World War,” he said to nods of assent.

None said he was ready to lay down his arms.

The responses seemed to afford little hope that, as Poroshenko urged, a cease-fire “should receive support from all participants in the events in Donbass.” Toward that end, the president’s office announced that Poroshenko would meet Thursday with what his office called the “legitimate” leaders from the east, including mayors and business representatives.

The Russian government has called repeatedly for Ukraine to stop its military crackdown on the separatists but has also insisted that it does not control, or speak for, the separatists.

But rebel leaders quickly dismissed Poroshenko’s proposal. Denis Pushilin, one of the leaders of the political wing of the Donetsk People’s Republic, said in television appearances in Moscow that he thought it was “pointless,” suggesting it was the latest trick by Kiev to subdue the fighters.

Another rebel commander, Igor Strelkov, told Komsomolskaya Pravda, a Russian newspaper, that Ukraine had already violated the cease-fire, though officially it had not yet even been declared.

In Kiev, Poroshenko told reporters that he planned to announce the cease-fire as part of a wider peace plan to end the more than two months of fighting in eastern Ukraine, where, the United Nations reported Wednesday, at least 356 people are known to have died.

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