Merkel says will push for ceasefire on Ukraine visit

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the main goal of her trip to Ukraine on Saturday was to help secure a ceasefire, reiterating that there could be no military solution to the crisis.

Ukrainian government forces have been fighting separatist pro-Russian rebels that Kiev says are backed by Russia. Kiev on Friday accused Moscow of launching a "direct invasion" by sending in a convoy of trucks.

"Politically the most important goal is reaching a mutual ceasefire," Merkel said in an interview with the Chemnitz region's Freie Presse newspaper, an excerpt of which was released on Friday ahead of Saturday's publication.

"We've got to reach the point that people aren't being killed every day. What's also on the agenda is how can Germany support Ukraine."

Merkel's first since to Kiev since the crisis erupted at the start of the year is above all a signal of support for Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko, the billionaire confectionary magnate who was elected less than three months ago.

But diplomats earlier in the week said the German leader was also expected to try to persuade Poroshenko, and nationalist hardliners in Ukraine who want to press their military advantage and crush the separatist rebellion in the east, to think hard about the consequences of such a course.

"I'll keep working with all my energy on the Ukraine conflict to help achieve peace through diplomatic means," she told the newspaper. "There can not be a purely military solution."

Merkel said in two separate phone calls on Friday with Poroshenko and Russian President Vladimir Putin that she was concerned about the Russian convoy in Ukraine, her spokesman Steffen Seibert said.

Moscow, which has thousands of troops close to the Russian side of the border, warned against any attempt to "disrupt" what it said was a purely humanitarian operation.

(Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum)

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