Ukraine starts pulling back heavy weapons

2015-02-26 17:06
Russia-backed separatist fighters stand next to self propelled 152 mm guns, part of a unit moved away from the front lines, in Yelenovka, near Donetsk, Ukraine. (Vadim Ghirda, AP)

Russia-backed separatist fighters stand next to self propelled 152 mm guns, part of a unit moved away from the front lines, in Yelenovka, near Donetsk, Ukraine. (Vadim Ghirda, AP)

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Kiev - Ukraine's military said it would start pulling back its heavy weapons on Thursday from the front line with Russian-backed separatists as required under a cease-fire agreement.

The Defence Ministry said in a statement that it reserved the right to revise its withdrawal plans in the event of an attack by rebel forces, however. It said the first weapons to be pulled back would be 100mm field guns.

The intensity of fighting has declined notably in recent days, although the warring sides have continued to trade accusations of violations in the cease-fire that came into force at one minute past midnight on 15 Feb.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed nearly 5 800 people since April. A peace deal agreed upon earlier this month by the leaders of Russia and Ukraine, brokered by France and Germany, aims to cement a cease-fire and begin a pull-back of heavy weapons.

Implementation of that deal is being overseen by an almost 600-strong team from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe.

Before the Ukraine announcement, Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesperson for the OSCE monitoring mission, complained that the warring sides had made little progress in laying the grounds for weapons withdrawal. That requires both sides to inventory their weapons and provide details about how and where they are to be relocated, he said.

"It's not enough to be invited to follow the removal process part of the way. It has to be complete," he said. "It's not a shopping list, you cannot pick and choose."

Clashes have attenuated if not stopped altogether since the cessation of hostilities agreed in the Belarusian capital on 12 February.

Ukraine's military said on Thursday that its positions had not been shelled over the previous night.

But Ukrainian military spokesperson, Colonel Andriy Lysenko, said there had been isolated armed confrontations, including on the fringes of the rebel stronghold of Donetsk.

Isn't ideal truce

Kiev has until now demurred from pulling back its heavy weapons, insisting separatists fully observe the cease-fire.

That stand was dismissed as "ridiculous" by Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

"Everyone understands that there isn't an ideal truce and an ideal regime of ceasing fire," Lavrov said Thursday.

The rebels claimed Tuesday to have begun their pull-back, but that has not been independently confirmed.

Eduard Basurin, spokesman for the separatist forces, told Russian TV station LifeNews that withdrawals from five locations were planned for Thursday and that the OSCE would monitor operations.

"The OSCE mission has been provided with all the documents they requested, which detail where equipment would be transported from and in which direction," Basurin told LifeNews.

Basurin said weaponry being pulled back by rebel forces Thursday included 122mm self-propelled howitzers.

Read more on:    sergey lavrov  |  russia  |  ukraine

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