Mykhailo Markiv/AP

Ukraine president floats unilateral cease-fire order for restive east

Announcement comes as UN reports escalating human rights abuses, and over 250 civilians killed in conflict

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has signaled that he will soon order a unilateral cease-fire in the separatist east, a move that could end a 10-week conflict that has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians, according to the United Nations.

"The peace plan begins with my order for a unilateral cease-fire," Poroshenko said in a speech to students at a military institute in Kiev.

"Immediately after this, we need very quickly to get support for the peace plan ... from all participants," he added, while outlining a 14-step blueprint toward an end to the conflict. 

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Poroshenko's announcement on Wednesday came a day after a phone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin in which the two leaders discussed a long-term solution to the pro-Russian uprising gripping eastern Ukraine since early April.

Poroshenko's office said the two presidents “discussed a series of priority measures that must be undertaken to implement a cease-fire, as well as the most efficient ways to monitor it.”

Poroshenko announced in the capital, Kiev, that the cease-fire was meant to be a temporary measure designed to give the pro-Russian fighters a chance to disarm.

The Kremlin said in a separate statement that the conversation between the two leaders “touched on the theme of a possible cease-fire in the area of military action in southeastern Ukraine.”

The dialogue between the leaders is aimed at ending clashes in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian rebels and government forces that have killed at least 356 people, according to U.N. figures released Wednesday.

Of those, 257 were civilians, Gianni Magazzeni, a U.N. human rights official, told reporters in Geneva as he presented the latest monthly report by the group’s 34 monitors in Ukraine.

Ukrainian troops have struggled to suppress the fighters, who on Saturday shot down a military transport plane, killing all 49 on board. Two Russian state television journalists were killed in Ukraine when they were shelled during clashes between Ukrainian and pro-Russian separatists near the eastern city of Luhansk. Last month, an Italian photographer and his Russian translator were killed by mortar fire.

Separatists have seized government buildings, held disputed referendums and declared independence in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions along Ukraine's eastern border with Russia.

“The escalation in criminal activity resulting in human rights abuses is no longer limited to targeting journalists, elected representatives, local politicians, civil servants and civil society activists,” the U.N. monthly report said. “Abductions, detentions, acts of ill-treatment and torture, and killings by armed groups are now affecting the broader population of the two eastern regions.”

More than 34,000 Ukrainians have been displaced, Magazzeni said, adding that those were mostly people from Crimea who did not want to stay after a referendum was passed in the region to join Russia.

In his inaugural address on June 7, Poroshenko had said he was willing to negotiate with people in the region, but not with “terrorists” who had “blood on their hands.” He proposed an amnesty for separatists, early regional elections and new efforts to create jobs in the area.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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