Kiev (AFP) - Ukranian President Petro Poroshenko on Sunday stressed the need for legitimate elections in the country's separatist regions in order to eventually re-integrate the pro-Moscow strongholds.
Poroshenko said in a televised address that "without elections in these occupied territories, a political solution will be in a deadlock".
The so-called Minsk peace deal between government troops and pro-Russia rebels in eastern Ukraine foresees the withdrawal of heavy weapons from the battlefield and calls for a vote to be held in the separatist regions under international auspices.
The pro-Russian insurgents took a big step toward political reconciliation last week by announcing they would postpone their own disputed local elections until next year in line with Western demands.
Poroshenko emphasised the importance of re-integrating the rebel-controlled territories of Donetsk and Lugansk, acknowledging it would be "extremely difficult" but that the process was essential.
"If you lose the chance to regain the regions of Donetsk and Lugansk, who in the world will speak of returning Crimea to a Ukraine that abandons its territories?" Poroshenko asked.
The rebels, who are now seeking greater autonomy within a united Ukraine, want to hold local elections on their own terms, which include barring all pro-Kiev candidates and holding the polls on separate days to those planned in the rest of Ukraine on October 25.
After the rebels announced they were postponing their polls, Western leaders came out in support of the decision, with French President Francois Hollande calling it a step towards peace.
The Ukraine conflict has killed some 8,000 people since April 2014 and left almost 18,000 wounded, according to UN figures.
A truce agreed in early September has largely been holding, although the separatists said Ukrainian army fire in Donetsk on Saturday killed one rebel fighter and wounded two others.