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Ukraine, Rebels Agree to Broaden Weapons Withdrawal

  • Reuters

FILE- Ukrainian servicemen guard a train junction where goods cross from and out of Ukraine into the rebel-held territory, in Orikhove, eastern Ukraine, June 2, 2015.

FILE- Ukrainian servicemen guard a train junction where goods cross from and out of Ukraine into the rebel-held territory, in Orikhove, eastern Ukraine, June 2, 2015.

Ukraine and pro-Russian separatists have agreed to extend a pull-back of weapons in east Ukraine to include tanks and smaller weapons systems, the OSCE's representative at peace talks, Martin Sajdik, said on Tuesday.

The deal was agreed during further talks in Minsk, Belarus, on the ceasefire, whose implementation has faced regular setbacks due to accusations from both sides of violations.

"It concerns the withdrawal of tanks, mortars and artillery of less than 100 mm caliber to a distance of 15 km [9.3 miles]. The first phase will start in two days," said Sajdik, from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

He said the Ukrainian envoy Leonid Kuchma had signed the deal, while separatist representative Denis Pushilin said the leaders of the self-styled Donetsk and Luhansk People's Republics, who were not present at talks, would sign the agreement by Thursday.

Weapons of over 100 mm caliber have already been withdrawn from the frontline in accordance with a ceasefire deal brokered in Minsk in February.

While in recent weeks the violence in Ukraine's separatist eastern territories has ebbed to its lowest point since the ceasefire was signed, Western diplomats say the 12-point peace plan is far from fully implemented.

Even after the lighter weapons are withdrawn, the sides still need to end a deadlock over the ground rules for local elections.

Under the terms of the peace deal, local elections were meant to be held in the separatist regions in tandem with the rest of the country, but Kyiv has said they cannot take place due to security and monitoring concerns.

The separatists, who have unilaterally set up their own mini-republics, have instead scheduled their own ballot, whose results Kyiv has said it will not recognize.

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