United Nations: The OSCE's envoy to Ukraine warned Friday that while there were encouraging signs of a ceasefire taking hold in eastern Ukraine, the country still faced the threat of all-out war.
Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini told the UN Security Council that fighting was subsiding in east Ukraine, prisoners had been released and the withdrawal of heavy weapons had begun.
But she emphasized that the situation remained volatile and recent "encouraging signs" could be reversed.
"We seem to be at the crossroads, where we are facing the risk of a further escalation of the conflict or where common sense, responsibility, and humanity shall prevail and we may be able to walk on the road to peace," Tagliavini told the 15-member council.
Three Ukrainian soldiers were killed in clashes between Kiev`s forces and pro-Russian rebels on Friday, after two days during which no deaths were reported.
"Unless the guns fall silent, there will be no hope for stabilizing the situation, let alone for peace," Tagliavini told the council by video link.
"We know that we are far away from this goal."
The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe has deployed 450 monitors in Ukraine, 300 of whom are based in the rebel strongholds of Donetsk and Lugansk.
Under a ceasefire deal reached in Minsk on February 12, the OSCE teams are tasked with monitoring compliance with the truce and ensuring that both sides pull back their heavy weaponry from the frontlines.
The envoy said providing humanitarian aid to the one million people displaced from the conflict would be a priority once the ceasefire is in place.Asked about the prospects for the ceasefire, Ukraine`s UN envoy Yuriy Sergeyev replied:"That`s a tough question."
The ambassador accused pro-Russian forces of regrouping and said "we have suspicions that the next target is Mariupol," a strategically important town that would link separatist-held east Ukraine to Russian-annexed Crimea.
Turkish diplomat Ertugrul Apakan, who heads the OSCE monitoring team, described rebel fighting around the town of Debaltseve in the days that followed the ceasefire deal as a clear violation of the Minsk accord.
"This was an attempt to create new facts on the ground, so to change the basis on which the latest package of measures had been agreed," he said.
Apakan asked the United Nations to help bolster his mission`s capacity to monitor the truce by providing more access to satellite imagery, drones and image-gathering technology.
The Security Council was holding its first meeting since it endorsed the ceasefire deal reached in Minsk between Russian President Vladimir Putin and the leaders of Ukraine, France and Germany.
The top UN body has held some 30 meetings on the conflict in Ukraine that has left close to 5,800 dead since the war began in April.