Ukraine set to launch discussions on decentralizing power

KYIV, Ukraine - A reluctant Ukrainian government agreed to launch discussions Wednesday on giving more powers to the regions under a peace plan brokered by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, but it has remains reluctant to engage pro-Russian separatists who have declared sprawling eastern regions independent.

Ukraine's prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was to chair the first in a series of round tables set to include national lawmakers, government figures and regional officials in line with proposals drafted by the OSCE, a top trans-Atlantic security and rights group that includes Russia and the United States.

Russia has strongly backed the Swiss-drafted road map, but Ukraine has remained cool to the plan and U.S. officials view its prospects for success skeptically.

Ukraine and the West have accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian insurgents seized administrative buildings, fought government forces and declared independence for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions after a controversial weekend referendum. The Ukrainian government and Western powers have rejected the referendum as a sham.

Speaking in Brussels Tuesday, Yatsenyuk thanked the OSCE for its plan but said Ukraine has its own plan for ending the crisis and said the people of his country should settle the issue themselves. He disclosed no details of that plan.

Ukrainian forces have mounted an offensive against the armed insurgents, and dozens have died in the fighting across the east. On Tuesday, the Defence Ministry said six soldiers were killed by insurgents who ambushed a convoy near the city of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region.

The OSCE plan calls on all sides to refrain from violence and urges amnesty for those involved in the unrest as well as talks on decentralization and the status of the Russian language. It envisages a quick launch of high-level round tables across the country bringing together national lawmakers and representatives of the central government and the regions.

The first round table set to be held on Wednesday in Kyiv will include Ukraine's former presidents, officials and lawmakers, but there has been no word about inviting rebels as the government has staunchly refused to talk to "separatists."

Former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is running for president in May 25 election, criticized the authorities for failing to engage its opponents and urged the government to move the round tables from the capital to Donetsk, the main city in the rebellious east.

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