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By Daniel Flynn NDASSIMA Central African Republic (Reuters) - Three young rebels, their AK47s propped against wooden stools in the afternoon heat, guard the entrance to the giant Ndassima goldmine carved deep into a forested hilltop in Central African Republic. The mine, owned by Canada's Axmin, was overrun by the mainly Muslim Seleka rebels more than year ago. Months of killing and looting provoked vicious reprisals by Christian militia, known as "anti-balaka", that pushed the rebels back, splitting the landlocked country of 4.5 million people into a Muslim north and the Christian south. If there is a problem there, we intervene," said Seleka's local commander Colonel Oumar Garba, sipping tea outside a villa in Axmin's abandoned compound.
The EU was set to approve punishing sanctions against Russia Tuesday over its role in the Ukraine crisis, as fighting in the strife-torn east again prevented international experts from reaching the crash site of Malaysian flight MH17. For the third day running, an unarmed team of Dutch and Australian police ditched plans to travel to the scene of the disaster as "there is currently too much fighting on and around the road to the crash site," said the Dutch justice ministry. The fresh conflict came a day after rebels admitted Kiev had regained control over part of the vast site, where the remains of some of the 298 victims from the MH17 crash still lie 12 days after the disaster. Someone who has control of it now may not have control in a few hours," said Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for monitors from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in rebel-held Donetsk about 60 kilometres (35 miles) away from the site.
KIEV/DONETSK Ukraine (Reuters) - Intense fighting between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine killed at least 19 civilians, local officials said on Tuesday, as Kiev pressed an offensive to close in on the separatists. Ukrainian forces have been pushing rebel units back towards their two main urban strongholds of Donetsk and Luhansk and have sought to encircle them in several places, including in the wider area where a Malaysian airliner crashed on July 17. In the city of Luhansk, officials said five civilians were killed when shelling hit a retirement home. "The enemy is throwing everything it has into the battle to complete encirclement of the DNR," rebel commander Igor Strelkov told journalists in Donetsk on Monday evening, referring to the self-proclaimed "Donetsk People's Republic".