Moscow -

Ukraine's government and pro-Russian separatists signalled on Thursday their willingness to talk after weeks of fighting in the east.

The pro-Western government said it wanted to hold talks with political forces in the east, where the country's ethnic Russian minority is concentrated.

The Foreign Ministry, however, ruled out any negotiations with “terrorists”, the term it has applied to pro-Russian forces that have taken over government buildings and erected roadblocks in the region.

A leader of what the separatists call the Donetsk People's Republic said on Russian state television that he was also prepared to engage in talks with the government.

The gesture from both sides occurred a day after Russian President Vladimir Putin said a referendum on independence scheduled to take place on Sunday in two eastern Ukrainian provinces should be delayed.

Pro-Russian forces in Ukraine have been pressing for the referendum in the provinces of Luhansk and Donetsk, arguing that they want to be independent from Ukraine and merged with a greater Russia.

The Ukrainian military has sought to quell the rebellion in the east, sometimes with force and often with little success.

The government has admitted it is losing control in the area. - Sapa-dpa