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European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

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PRAGUE (Reuters) - Central European countries asked the European Union on Wednesday to free up funds to help Ukraine deal with a growing number of people displaced by conflict.

Ukraine is battling Russian-backed separatists in the eastern Donbass region and a ceasefire agreement negotiated with the help of Russia and Western powers is barely holding.

In a letter to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the leaders of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Poland and Hungary said the number of internally displaced persons in Ukraine had reached more than 1.7 million by March.

Poland, Hungary and Slovakia - which along with the Czech Republic make up the Visegrad Group - border Ukraine and would be most affected by migration from the former Soviet republic.

"There is no indication that conflict will be solved in the near future and that the number of internally displaced persons in Ukraine has reached its maximum," the letter said.

It requested the EU's executive to free up funding for a Regional Development and Protection Programme, which the bloc has used in Jordan and Iraq.

The programme would help Ukraine beef up state institutions to handle the rise in displaced people and refugees. The countries said they were ready to lead this programme.

The leaders of the four countries met before an EU summit due to discuss issues including migration on June 28-29.

Eastern European countries have been fiercely opposed to attempts to put a quota system for refugees in place despite pressure from larger member states feeling the strain of an influx of migrants mostly from the Middle East and North Africa.

In a joint statement on Wednesday, the countries said proposals to implement quotas "could act as a pull factor and will further divide member states - and their respective societies."

(Reporting by Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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