Europe

Rebel leader in eastern Ukraine issues military threat

Polish President Andrzej Duda,right, and the president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko chat during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, southern Germany, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. The annual weekend gathering is known for providing an open and informal platform to meet in close quarters. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)

Polish President Andrzej Duda,right, and the president of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko chat during the Munich Security Conference in Munich, southern Germany, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. The annual weekend gathering is known for providing an open and informal platform to meet in close quarters. (AP Photo/Matthias Schrader)  (The Associated Press)

The leader of pro-Russia separatist rebels has warned that they may use force to drive out Ukrainian troops from positions in eastern Ukraine.

Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, said Friday that the rebels aim to "free the occupied territories" in the Donetsk and Luhansk provinces by political means, but added that they could do so with militarily force if political efforts fail.

More than 9,800 people have died since April 2014 in fighting in eastern Ukraine between government forces and Russia-backed separatists. Fighting escalated for several days earlier this month, the worst outbreak of fighting since a 2015 peace deal.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Zakharchenko's statement defied a 2015 agreement, but added that it comes amid tensions provoked by Ukraine's actions.