KIEV: Ukraine said Friday that five of its soldiers had died during fighting in the east of the country, as it accused Russia of ramping up its military presence in the war-torn region.
The spike in fighting came as leaders from the EU and six former Soviet countries were meeting in Brussels for a summit aimed at deepening ties, with Moscow's role in the Ukraine conflict conspicuously off the agenda.
Secretary of Ukraine's Security and Defence Council Oleksandr Turchynov claimed that Moscow had reinforced its presence in eastern Ukraine amid a spike in infighting between warring rebel factions loyal to the Kremlin.
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It was the highest daily death toll since August 25 when a new truce entered into force in the latest effort to put an end to a conflict that has claimed more than 10,000 lives since 2014.
"Five of our soldiers have died over the past 24 hours," Turchynov said in televised remarks. "It is a very serious problem for us."
"A conflict situation is under way between various criminal groups which make up the occupational administration on the occupied territories," he added.
Separately, the Ukrainian military's anti-terror centre said that four of the soldiers died in the Lugansk region, one of two regions controlled by Moscow-backed rebels, and that four more were wounded.
It said eight rebels had been killed and another nine wounded.
The Kiev anti-terror centre said the army remained in control but the situation was "tense" and a ceasefire was being violated.
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Tensions broke out earlier this week in the self-proclaimed Lugansk People's Republic, which has for years been blighted by leadership squabbles.
The region's separatist leader, Igor Plotnitsky, has sacked his interior minister and accused him of masterminding a coup attempt. The minister, Igor Kornet, has refused to step down.
The current whereabouts of Plotnitsky were not known Friday and his official website was down.
Russian nationalist writer Zakhar Prilepin, who has joined the rebels, wrote on Facebook the day before that he had seen him flying to Moscow, and videos allegedly showing Plotnitsky in the airport were shared on social media.