Ukraine nationalists in standoff with security forces after two killed

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National Guard servicemen man a road block in the village of Lavky, near the small Ukrainian town of Mukacheve, on July 12, 2015

National Guard servicemen man a road block in the village of Lavky, near the small Ukrainian town of Mukacheve, on July 12, 2015 (AFP Photo/Alexander Zobin)

Mukacheve (Ukraine) (AFP) - Heavily armed ultra-nationalists in western Ukraine on Sunday set up roadblocks to stop security forces from disarming them the day after a shootout with police left at least two dead in the town of Mukacheve.

The Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) demanded early Sunday that the fighters of the paramilitary Pravy Sektor (Right Sector) group -- once central to the demonstrations that toppled a Russian-backed president last year -- disarm and surrender "to avoid a (new) bloodbath".

"There is little time left for them" to lay down their arms before security forces intervene, said Vitaly Malikov, the SBU deputy chief of security.

A Right Sector spokesman, Artem Skoropadski, said the movement's leader Dmytro Yarosh had not ordered his men to lay down their arms.

Another spokesman, Oleksy Byk, said the militants had set up roadblocks to prevent police reinforcements from reaching Mukacheve.

Ukrainian authorities on Saturday launched a "special operation" to disarm the group, but the fighters retreated into a forested area near the village of Lavki a few dozen kilometres (miles) from the Hungarian and Slovakian borders.

A helicopter flew over the area on Sunday and the road to Lavki was blocked by two trucks flanked by armed police, an AFP photographer said from the scene.

A security source told AFP that Saturday's shootout occurred during an encounter between the ultra-nationalists and local "criminals" who were trying to "divvy up spheres of influence" in the area, which is a hub for cigarette trafficking.

Right Sector said it was attacked by "bandits" affiliated with a lawmaker it described as a "drug trafficker" and accused police of being on the payroll of a pro-Russian politician.

Russian state media and the pro-Russian inhabitants of eastern Ukraine describe the openly homophobic Right Sector as "fascist".

Two Right Sector candidates, who describe themselves as nationalists, won election to parliament last October.