Ukraine names new defence chiefs

Parliament endorsed Colonel-General Valery Heletey as defence minister.

French minister of Foreign Affairs Laurent Fabius (L) shakes hands with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko. Picture: AFP.

KIEV - Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko won parliament's approval on Thursday to shake up the leadership of the armed forces as they struggle to end a rebellion by pro-Russian separatists.

Parliament endorsed Colonel-General Valery Heletey as defence minister after hearing Poroshenko describe the 46-year-old as a man "who will work day and night for restoring the military capability of our armed forces." He also named a new chief of the general staff.

Poroshenko took office last month with the country in crisis, as two eastern regions press demands to break away and join Russia, following the example of Crimea earlier this year.

After months of unsuccessful attempts to quash the uprising, he wants to sharpen the army's effectiveness while exploring diplomatic options to end the crisis, which has revived East-West tensions in ways reminiscent of the Cold War.

Poroshenko on Monday rejected a further extension of a 10-day unilateral ceasefire in the east, where the government says 200 service personnel have been killed since the start of the conflict, as well as hundreds of civilians and rebels.

In a telephone conversation with US Vice President Joe Biden, Poroshenko repeated a promise that Kiev could return to the ceasefire, on three conditions.

A statement on his website said he wanted assurances on a 'bilateral' truce, the release of hostages, and the deployment of international monitors to check Ukraine's porous border with Russia. Moscow denies Ukraine's charges that it is letting fighters and weapons cross into the east of the country.

In Berlin on Wednesday the foreign ministers of Russia and Ukraine, after talks with German and French ministers, supported a further meeting of a "contact group" involving separatist leaders and aimed at trying to work out conditions for a more lasting ceasefire.

The group includes a former president of Ukraine, who is informally representing Kiev, Moscow's ambassador to Kiev, and a high-ranking official from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

It should meet "no later than 5 July with the goal of reaching an unconditional and mutually agreed sustainable ceasefire", a document agreed by the four ministers said.

French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to encourage the separatists to reach an agreement with the Ukrainian authorities, the French president's office said.