الثلاثاء , يونيو 16 2020

Ukraine weapons withdrawal agreed

Pro-Russian rebels ride on a tank in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine. File photoPro-Russian rebels control parts of Ukraine’s eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions

The government and rebels in eastern Ukraine have agreed to start pulling back heavy weapons from the frontline.

A Russian general involved in the process said withdrawal would start on Sunday, but Ukraine did not confirm.

The agreement between pro-Russian rebel leaders and Ukrainian forces is part of the terms of the Minsk ceasefire deal.

The process will not be completed until at least 8 March, five days later than the deadline set in Minsk.

Another key element of the Minsk deal moved forward on Saturday when the Ukrainian government and the rebels exchanged 191 prisoners.

The BBC’s David Stern in Kiev sad the exchange was the first positive news since the Minsk agreement.

The 12 February ceasefire signed in the Belarusian capital, and brokered by France and Germany, had looked in danger of collapsing during the week when the rebels captured the strategically important rail hub of Debaltseve.

Map showing the battle lines in eastern Ukraine

Nearly 5,700 people have died and 1.5 million have fled their homes since fighting erupted last April in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, according to the UN.

‘From today’

Rebel spokesman Eduard Basurin confirmed the withdrawal agreement had been signed on Saturday night.

“Starting from today there are two weeks to withdraw heavy weapons,” he said.

The agreement was reportedly signed by Luhansk rebel leader Igor Plotnitsky and by Donetsk rebel leader Alexander Zakharchenko, the latter from his hospital bed, after he was wounded in the ankle during the recent fighting at Debaltseve.

Russia’s Lt-Gen Alexander Lentsov, who sits on the Joint Centre for Control and Co-operation monitoring the ceasefire, said the withdrawal would begin on Sunday, but the Ukrainian signatory, Maj Gen Oleksandr Rozmaznin, told AFP news agency that it was too early to say when the withdrawal would begin.

Ukrainian prisoners march to the prisoner exchange - 21 FebruarySeveral of the Ukrainian prisoners were wounded, some walking on crutches

Rebels released by the Ukrainian government, 21 February One of the rebels released appeared to have bruises on his face

A destroyed bridged in Debaltseve, eastern Ukraine. Photo: 20 February 2015Eastern Ukraine has been devastated by months of heavy fighting

People in Kiev inspect weapons and equipment apparently seized from rebels in eastern Ukraine - 21 FebruaryUkraine displayed in Kiev what its said were seized rebel weapons and equipment supplied by Russia

Ukrainian government and rebel forces have accused each other of multiple breaches of the truce since it came into force on 14 February.

US Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington was considering “serious sanctions” against Russia following breaches of the truce, and that a decision would be made in the coming days.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said sanctions would not help solve Ukraine’s crisis.

The Ukrainian government, Western leaders and Nato say there is clear evidence that Russia is helping the rebels in eastern Ukraine with heavy weapons and soldiers. Independent experts echo that accusation.

Moscow denies it, insisting that any Russians serving with the rebels are “volunteers”.

Meanwhile, thousands of Ukrainians – as well as a number of European leaders – are expected to take part in a “dignity march” in the capital Kiev on Sunday, remembering the victims of sniper fire during protests last February.

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