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MINSK, May 22. /TASS/. The Contact Group on settlement of situation in south-eastern Ukraine will hold talks on the first round of negotiations of working subgroups on Friday in Minsk.
The decision to launch subgroups at last Contact Group meeting on May 6 in Minsk signaled the start of a new stage in the efforts to settle the crisis.
The aim of creating subgroups lay in intensifying the peace process, working on implementing separate points of the Minsk agreements, actively discussing concrete problems, while the Contact Group is tasked with making final decisions. "Sub-groups cannot make decisions, they can only give recommendations," the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic (DPR) envoy to the Contact Group Denis Pushilin said.
Meetings of subgroups on security, economic and humanitarian issues took place on May 14 and 19. The subgroup on political issues will take place today. After that, the Contact Group will discuss "the first results of work of working subgroups," according to Daria Olifer, press secretary of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who serves as Kiev’s envoy to the talks.
The main topic for the subgroup on political issues will be holding local elections in Donbass. "The law on local election in Donbass will be put on agenda for the working subgroup, and we hope that the Ukrainian side will not dodge discussing it," DPR’s envoy at talks Denis Pushilin said.
He stressed that discussing this issue cannot be postponed any longer. "That is why we made public the texts of proposed projects beforehand," he noted.
Ahead of the meeting, the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DPR and LPR) have made public their proposals on amendments to Ukraine’s constitution, draft law on elections and draft changes to the law "On special procedure of local self-governments in separate regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions."
DPR and LPR sent amendments to the constitution and draft law on local election to the Contact Group and OSCE’s (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe) coordinator at the subgroup on political issues Pierre Morel on May 13.
The amendments to the constitution, in particular, envisage creating in Donetsk and Lugansk regions "separate areas with special status" that will be recognized as integral part of Ukraine. It is also put forward to introduce an amendment to Ukraine’s constitution that stipulates that the law "On special procedure of local self-governments in separate regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions" remains in force with any time restrictions. The self-proclaimed republics’ proposal also envisages introducing amendments on the country’s neutrality or adopting a law on its off-bloc status.
At the same time, the draft law on election proposed by the republics outlines the procedure of holding election of deputies to local councils and regional heads and lists all settlements of Donetsk and Lugansk regions where snap local election should take place "in the next two months after the law enters into force."
Later, on May 21, the republics put forward their draft 10th article of Ukraine’s law "On special procedure of local self-governments in separate regions of Donetsk and Lugansk regions." According to DPR people’s council chairman Andrey Purgin, the text of the law, up to the exact wording of each article, was coordinated at the Contact Group meeting in Minsk on February 12. "The document was signed by [Ukraine’s] President [Pyotr] Poroshenko. However, already on March 17, Ukraine made amendments to the law on special status [to 10th article], thus violating the commitments that it made," Purgin noted.
The DPR representative stressed that as a result of Rada’s amendments to the 10th article, all other articles of this law can only enter into force after snap local election is held and new local self-government authorities assume their responsibilities.
DPR and LPR consider this to be the direct violation of the Minsk agreements. "Kiev needs to fix this mistake," Purgin said. "We proposed our draft of 10th article of the law on special procedure of local self-government that envisages the law’s immediate entering into force, which Kiev is avoiding at different pretexts," he added.
The Verkhovna Rada should "immediately" cancel all amendments to the law on special status that were not coordinated with Donbass as it was the reason that "the law adopted by the Rada was not in force even for one day," Denis Pushilin noted.
The Ukrainian authorities have not yet reacted to proposals of the self-proclaimed republics.
Among participants in the subgroup on political issues are OSCE’s envoy Pierre Morel, Russia’s representative Maxim Polyakov, Ukraine’s envoy Vladimir Gorbulin and two representatives from each DPR and LPR.
The subgroup on economy that gathered in Minsk on May 14, discussed the possibilities of restoring the banking system, infrastructure, damaged bridges and re-launching work of companies in Donbass.
The situation around the Shirokino settlement at the disengagement line on Donbass was on top of the agenda at the meeting of the working subgroup on security which took place on May 19. OSCE’s coordinator Ertugrul Apakan stressed that "the meeting was very positive and useful," "the positions of the sides coincide on many issues" and "the situation will be solved in the nearest future."
The subgroup on humanitarian issues discussed the importance of completing prisoner exchange on an "all for all basis." OSCE’s coordinator Toni Frisch noted the solidarity of all sub-groups participants in this issue. "I did not see considerable obstacles and reluctance to exchange prisoners on an ‘all for all’ basis," he said. The participants of the meeting made "real efforts to solve this issue," Frisch added. However, "the exact number of people subjected to exchange and the date of the next meeting" remain "the issue for further discussion in the closed format," he said.
On February 12, 2015 participants of the Contact Group signed in Minsk a document earlier agreed with leaders of the Normandy Four.
The 13-point document, entitled the Package of Measures on implementation of the September 2014 Minsk agreements, in particular included cessation of fire from February 15, withdrawal of heavy armaments, as well as measures on long-term political settlement in Ukraine, including establishment of working subgroups.
The subgroups focus on four areas: economic issues and restoration of facilities; refugees, internally displaced persons and humanitarian assistance; political issues; security issues.