Dec 22, 3:39 PM EST

Leaders agree on Ukrainian peace talks this week


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MOSCOW (AP) -- Leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany on Monday reached an agreement to call another round of Ukraine peace talks this week, the latest attempt to negotiate a settlement to the conflict that has badly strained the ties between Russia and the West.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, Vladimir Putin of Russia, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed during a conference call to convene the talks that would involve negotiators from Ukraine, Russia, pro-Russian rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Poroshenko's office said the negotiations will be held in the Belarusian capital Minsk on Wednesday and Friday. The four leaders agreed to talk again in a few days, it said.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russia separatists has killed more than 4,700 people, according to the United Nations. Ukraine and the West have accused Moscow of fueling the rebellion with troops and weapons - the accusations Moscow has denied.

Previous rounds of Minsk talks between the parties in September produced a ceasefire deal which has often been violated.

Recent peace efforts have helped sharply reduce hostilities, but the conflicting parties have been unable to agree on terms for the pullout of heavy weapons and prisoners exchange.

The German government said in a statement that the four leaders agreed that implementation of the Minsk agreement needs to be moved forward urgently and discussed "concrete proposals for solutions," in particular regarding the exchange of prisoners.

In its readout of the conference call, the Kremlin said the four leaders noted that the warring sides had largely observed the ceasefire in recent days.

Both the Kremlin and Poroshenko's office said the leaders agreed on the need to respect the ceasefire, draw a separation line between the warring sides, pull out troops and heavy weapons and quickly release war prisoners.

The Kremlin stressed the importance of providing assistance to the population of the war-ravaged east and take steps to normalize the economic situation there. Moscow has repeatedly urged Poroshenko to revise his decision to suspend pensions and other social services to the population of the rebellious east.

The Ukrainian leader, in his turn, strongly urged Moscow to release Nadezhda Savchenko, a Ukrainian military officer who was taken prisoner by the rebels in June and ended up in a Russian prison, where she's awaiting trial.

Russian investigators have accused Savchenko, who was elected to the Ukrainian parliament in October's vote, of involvement in the killing of two Russian journalists in eastern Ukraine. The accusations have been challenged by her lawyers.

Earlier in the day, Kazakstan's President Nursultan Nazarbayev visited Kiev and held talks with Poroshenko before flying to Moscow.

He said the conflict in eastern Ukraine is "nonsense" and called on both nations to find a way to resolve it.

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Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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