Germany considers sending soldiers to eastern Ukraine: source

BERLIN (Reuters) - Berlin is considering deploying soldiers to monitor the ceasefire negotiated by the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) between separatists and the army in eastern Ukraine, a German government source said on Saturday.

The source said on Saturday that the German armed forces were prepared to provide soldiers and equipment if political decisions were made to the effect that there should be an OSCE mission involving German troops.

The number of soldiers that would be sent is, however, not yet foreseeable and there is no clear operational concept as yet because that would depend on the security situation in Ukraine and conditions set by the OSCE, the source said.

Last month France and Germany offered to deploy drones as part of efforts by the OSCE to beef up monitoring of the ceasefire in Ukraine.

German mass-selling daily Bild said 200 soldiers were planned for the mission, with 150 to monitor the crisis area with drones while a further 50 would provide protection.

The newspaper said the mission was the result of a Franco-German fact-finding mission of the border region in mid-September which found that the ceasefire could only be monitored if armed soldiers protected the monitoring staff.

A spokesman for the German Foreign Ministry said Berlin was holding talks with Paris about how to support the OSCE but added that they were only exploratory talks so far and no decisions had been made.

Seven decades after the end of World War Two, Germany's Nazi past has made it reluctant to send troops abroad even on peace keeping missions. President Joachim Gauck has been urging the country to play a more active military role.

German troops have been deployed with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan.

For the Ukraine mission, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen said that the OSCE had asked member states for drones because it did not have its own.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande agreed at a NATO summit in September to look into whether they could monitor the buffer zone with drones.

"A German-French advance team has now got an overview of the situation on the ground," von der Leyen said, adding that their joint report was about to be sent to the OSCE and then details would need to be discussed with the OSCE.

Separately, German Development Minister Gerd Mueller said on Saturday that Germany would send more than 100 lorries carrying aid supplies such as mobile kitchens, heating devices and blankets to Ukraine, particularly cities in the east of the country, by mid-October given the approaching winter.

(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Writing by Michelle Martin; Editing by Stephen Powell)