Ukraine launches 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) — 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.

The OSCE road map aims to halt fighting between government forces and pro-Russia separatists in the east and de-escalate tensions ahead of Ukraine’s May 25 presidential vote. It calls on all sides to refrain from violence, offers an amnesty for those involved in the unrest and urges talks on decentralization and the status of the Russian language.

Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Yevhen Perebiynis lamented, however, that the OSCE plan does not specifically oblige Russia to do anything.

Even so, European officials applauded the start of the talks. The EU’s enlargement commissioner, Stefan Fule, welcomed the round table on his

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