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Rebel-held city of Donetsk holds clean-up day despite continued shelling in eastern Ukraine

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MINSK, Belarus — Peace talks to regulate the ongoing crisis in east Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have battled Ukrainian troops since April, started late Friday in the capital of Belarus.

Representatives of Ukraine, Russia, and the Moscow-backed rebels arrived in Minsk for the talks that many hope could bring a permanent political solution to the region, as civilian casualties continue to rise, despite a cease-fire imposed in the region on Sept. 5.

PHOTO: Residents sweep up debris at the cultural center that was shelled in late August, in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. The rebel-held city of Donetsk is holding a city-wide clean-up day after months of shelling in eastern Ukraine, sending prisoners out to help remove the debris. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
Residents sweep up debris at the cultural center that was shelled in late August, in the town of Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, Friday, Sept. 19, 2014. The rebel-held city of Donetsk is holding a city-wide clean-up day after months of shelling in eastern Ukraine, sending prisoners out to help remove the debris. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Leonid Kuchma, the former Ukrainian president who is Kiev's envoy to the region, told journalists that the main purpose of the talks would be to ensure that the cease-fire is more thoroughly enforced.

In Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city in east Ukraine, the separatists held a city-wide cleanup day Friday, sending prisoners out to help remove the debris that has piled up after months of shelling.

Throughout the cease-fire, periods of peace have been interrupted by intermittent gunfire. The same was true Friday, when the Donetsk city council said in a statement that one person was killed by shelling during the night. Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the National Security and Defense Council, told journalists in Kiev that two servicemen were killed in the past day during the fighting.

The streets were quiet Friday as the rebels called for a cleanup. In one school that was shelled in late August, four Ukrainian prisoners guarded by armed rebels were sweeping up debris.

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