- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 14, 2014

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - Ukraine’s government launched talks Wednesday on decentralizing power as part of a European-backed peace plan but didn’t invite its main foes, the pro-Russia insurgents who have declared independence in the east.

That deliberate oversight left it unclear whether the negotiations might help cool the tensions in the east.

In his opening remarks, acting President Oleksandr Turchynov said authorities were “ready for a dialogue” but insisted they will not talk to the pro-Russia gunmen who have seized buildings and fought government troops across eastern Ukraine.

“Let’s have a dialogue, let’s discuss specific proposals,” Turchynov said, “But those armed people who are trying to wage a war on their own country, those who are with arms in their hands trying to dictate their will, or rather the will of another country, we will use legal procedures against them and they will face justice.”

Insurgents in the east shrugged off the round-table talks as meaningless.

“We haven’t received any offers to join a round table and dialogue,” Denis Pushilin, an insurgent leader in Donetsk. “If the authorities in Kiev want a dialogue, they must come here. If we go to Kiev, they will arrest us.”

Asked if they would be willing to take part in discussions if the round table was held in the east, Pushilin told The Associated Press that “talks with Kiev authorities could only be about one thing: the recognition of the Donetsk People’s Republic.”

Turchynov chaired the first in a series of round tables with spiritual leaders, lawmakers, government figures and regional officials as part of a peace plan crafted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a security group that also includes Russia and the United States.

Ukraine right now is deeply divided between those in the west, who want closer ties with Europe, and those in the east, who have strong traditional and language ties with Russia.

Acting Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told participants they will be holding discussions across the country “in as many regions as possible,” but didn’t name any specific one.

Oleksandr Efremov, leader of the Party of Regions in the Ukrainian parliament, the support base of ousted President Viktor Yanukovych, voiced hope that the discussions will be held in the east “where things are perceived in a different way.”

Efremov called on the government to withdraw its troops from the Donetsk region and urged authorities to understand that people are genuinely suspicious of the new government that came to power after Yanukovych fled to Russia in February.

The Ukrainian government, however, has said it will not stop its offensive to retake eastern cities now under the control of the separatists who declared independence Monday in the Luhansk and Donetsk regions, home to 6.6 million people.

Kiev-appointed Donetsk governor Serhiy Taruta sought to strike a reconciliatory note, urging the government among other things to refrain from calling pro-Russia protesters “terrorists” and to dismantle the protest camp on Kiev’s Maidan square that led to Yanukovych’s departure.

That would send a message that Kiev treats all protesters from the east and west equally, Taruta said.

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