Ukraine agrees to talks _ but its foes are missing

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Local citizens collect parts of a seized APC that was set alight during a fighting between and government troops at Oktyabrskoye village, about 20 km. (12 miles) from Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. At list six servicemen were ambushed and killed and eight others wounded Tuesday afternoon outside the town of Kramatorsk, Ukrainian defense ministry said. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Local citizens collect parts of a seized APC that was set alight during a fighting between and government troops at Oktyabrskoye village, about 20 km. (12 miles) from Kramatorsk, eastern Ukraine, Wednesday, May 14, 2014. At list six servicemen were ambushed and killed and eight others wounded Tuesday afternoon outside the town of Kramatorsk, Ukrainian defense ministry said. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

A car passes by the barricades with a Russian national flag on a road leading into Slovyansk, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Pro-Russian insurgents, who have seized government buildings and clashed with government forces during the past month, held Sunday’s referendum, which Ukraine’s acting president called a “sham” and Western governments said violated international law. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Pro-Russian insurgents with the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic man a checkpoint by the Karl Marx coal mine seen in the background near Korsun, a small town about 30 km north-east from Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. The words on the wall of barricades read ” No fascism”. The Donetsk People’s Republic has proclaimed independence from Ukraine after a contentious autonomy referendum Sunday that has been rejected by the government and the international community. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

A child looks from inside a bus in Odessa, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Pro-Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine held a referendum Sunday and claimed that about 90 percent of those who voted in Donetsk and Luhansk backed sovereignty. The two regions declared independence on Monday and insurgents in Donetsk even asked to join Russia. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier gestures while speaking to Odessa governor Igor Palitsa during a meeting in Odessa, Ukraine, Tuesday, May 13, 2014. Germany’s foreign minister tried to broker a quick launch of talks between Ukraine’s central government and pro-Russia separatists yet Ukraine was skeptical Tuesday and fighting claimed six more lives in the restive east. (AP Photo/(AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

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KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — The Ukrainian government reluctantly agreed to launch talks on decentralizing power Wednesday as part of a European-backed peace plan, but did not invite its main foes, the pro-Russia insurgents who have declared independence in the east.

That deliberate oversight left it unclear what the negotiations might accomplish.

Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, was to chair the first in a series of round tables with national lawmakers, government figures and regional officials as part of a peace plan drafted by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. The trans-Atlantic security and rights group also includes Russia and the United States.

Even as Yatsenyuk launched the talks he was dismissive of them, thanking the OSCE for its efforts but saying Ukraine has its own plan to end the crisis. He gave no details of that plan.

The road map aims to halt fighting between government forces and pro-Russia separatists who have taken over government buildings in the east and de-escalate tensions ahead of Ukraine’s May 25 presidential vote. It lets the Ukrainian government decide specifics of the talks.

Acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchynov said the talks would involve “regional elites” —expected to include former Ukrainian presidents, officials and lawmakers. But he said the government would not stop its offensive to retake eastern cities now under the control of the separatists who declared independence on Monday.

“The government will act against those who are terrorizing the region with arms in hand in line with the law, by continuing an anti-terrorist operation against them,” Turchynov said.

Insurgents in the east shrugged off the round table 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.”

Even so, European officials applauded the start of the talks. The EU’s enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fule, welcomed the launch of the round table on his Twitter account, voicing hope the next meeting would take place in the east.

Sawsan Chebli, a spokeswoman for German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said Ukraine’s acceptance of the round-table format was a step in the right direction, whether the pro-Russia separatists were invited or not.

“We are of the opinion that this national dialogue will help to de-escalate the situation,” she said.

The OSCE itself would not comment Wednesday on the invitee list.

Russia has strongly backed the OSCE road map. The United States, while saying it’s worth a try, views its prospects for success with skepticism.

Ukraine and the West have accused Moscow of fomenting the unrest in eastern Ukraine, where insurgents have seized administrative buildings, fought government forces and declared independence for the Donetsk and Luhansk regions after a hastily called vote last weekend that Ukraine and the Western powers have called a sham.

Dozens have died in the scattershot fighting across the east. On Tuesday, the Defense Ministry said six soldiers were killed and nine wounded in a rebel ambushed near the city of Kramatorsk in the Donetsk region — the deadliest attack the Ukrainian military has seen since the offensive began last month.

Defense Ministry spokesman Bohdan Senyk said about 30 gunmen positioned themselves on both sides of the road and used rocket-propelled grenades to knock out the military vehicles in a battle that raged for an hour.

On Wednesday morning, AP journalists saw the charred carcasses of a Ukrainian armored personnel carrier and a truck at the clash site.

Defense Minister Mykhailo Koval claimed that the insurgents were being aided by Russian servicemen.

“Russia has waged an undeclared new-generation war in Ukraine. The neighboring country has unleashed a

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