UK & World News

  • 14 June 2014, 22:11

Ukrainian Aircraft Shot Down By Separatists

Pro-Russian separatists have shot down an army transport plane in eastern Ukraine, killing 49 servicemen and dealing a massive blow to the campaign to defeat the rebels.

President Petro Poroshenko has summoned his security chiefs for meetings and promised an "adequate" response after the aircraft was shot down by an anti-aircraft missile as it came in to land at Luhansk airport.

Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke on the telephone with French leader Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who both expressed "extreme concern" over the violence and called for a ceasefire.

US Secretary of State John Kerry also expressed "strong concern" during a phone call with Russia Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and said the US and G7 would "raise costs for Russia" if it does not end the flow of weapons across the border.

Declaring Sunday a day of mourning for the nine crew and 40 paratroopers killed, Mr Poroshenko said: "All those involved in cynical acts of terrorism of this magnitude must be punished."

It is the biggest loss of life suffered by government forces in a single incident since Kiev began a military operation to try to defeat the pro-Russia insurgency in east Ukraine.

The incident is likely to fuel tension between Russia and Ukraine's main ally, the United States, which has accused Moscow of arming the rebels.

The plane came down overnight near Novohannivka, a village 12 miles (20km) southeast of Luhansk, close to the Russian border.

Charred debris was scattered for hundreds of metres over sloping wheat fields. The tail section jutted up from the ground, with sections of the engine, fuselage and other parts scattered around it.

Rebel forces wearing camouflage fatigues scoured through the wreckage for ammunition that was intended for government forces.

"This is how we work. The fascists can bring as many reinforcements as they want but we will do this every time. We will talk to them on our own terms," said a stocky 50-year-old rebel who identified himself as Pyotr, his name de guerre.

Rebels claimed to have shot down a fighter jet over the city of Slavyansk on Saturday, although this has not been confirmed.

Government forces, who hold the airport, attacked rebel positions near the airfield with jets soon after day broke, local residents said.

Ukrainian forces reclaimed the city of Mariupol on Friday, a major port for the export of steel.

Ukraine and Russia have begun talks on a peace plan despite the continuing violence.

A rebellion has been raging in east Ukraine since April, with separatists agitating for Russia to absorb the Russian-speaking east after the annexation of Crimea in March.

Russia denies being behind the uprising and the rebels say they get weapons from army stockpiles.

The US State Department said on Friday that Russia had sent tanks, heavy weapons and rocket launchers to Ukraine in recent days.

Spokeswoman Marie Harf said a convoy of three T-64 tanks, several MB-21 "or Grad" multiple rocket launchers and other military vehicles had crossed the border in the last three days.

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