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Pro-Russia rebels and commander flee Slavyansk in Ukraine

Published on Jul 5, 2014 3:27 PM

KIEV (AFP) - Ukraine's interior minister said on Saturday that most pro-Russian rebels and their top commander had fled their main eastern stronghold in what would be Kiev's biggest success of the nearly three-month campaign.

"This morning, intelligence reported that Girkin (Igor Strelkov) and a substantial part of the rebels had fled Slavyansk," Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said in reference to the industrial city of nearly 120,000 which the insurgents captured on April 6.

Ukraine alleges that Strelkov is a colonel in Russia's military intelligence unit know as the Chief Intelligence Directorate (GRU). Both Strelkov and Moscow deny any GRU link despite Western claims that the Kremlin is covertly funding and arming the uprising to destabilise Kiev's new pro-European leaders and retain control over over Russia-speaking eastern regions of Ukraine.

Avakov said in a Facebook post that the militias were fleeing to Gorlivka - a city of 260,000 about 50 kilometre southeast of Slavyansk that also remains largely under the militias' control.

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