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article imageUkraine, rebels agree troop pullbacks in three areas: OSCE

By AFP     Sep 21, 2016 in World

Negotiators sent by Kiev and pro-Russian rebels on Wednesday for the first time agreed to pull back troops from three areas along the battered frontline in east Ukraine.

The sides signed a framework agreement for the pullback in eastern Ukraine, said Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) envoy Martin Sajdik, who is moderating protracted peace talks between Ukraine, the rebels and Russia.

"After three months of insistent negotiations... today we finally agreed a framework document on pulling back forces and equipment," Sajdik told journalists after talks finished in Minsk.

The document represents a small step forward in Ukraine's stalled peace talks and comes several days after German and French foreign ministers made their first ever visit to the eastern conflict zone last week.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier praised it as "new progress" in comments to Suddeutsche Zeitung daily, adding that "other (measures) must swiftly follow to obtain separation along the entire line of conflict."

The document was signed by Ukrainian and Russian negotiators and initialled by representatives of the so-called Donetsk and Lugansk "republics" before being signed by their respective leaders, said Sajdik.

Ukraine and the rebels pledged to withdraw troops and weapons by one kilometre by each side in three "security areas": Stanytsya Luganska and Zolote in Lugansk region and Petrovske in Donetsk region, said the Ukrainian negotiator Yevgen Marchuk.

"In essence this will create a security square measuring two kilometres wide and two kilometres deep," he told journalists. "This has not happened before."

"In fact, there has not been a pullback of troops before. This is the first attempt. If it works and will be carried out by all sides as agreed then this will take us to another level."

Stanytsya Luganska is about 10 kilometres northeast, and Zolote is 55 kilometres northwest of rebel hub Lugansk. It was not immediately clear which Petrovske, a common village name, was mentioned in the document.

Russian agencies quoted the document as saying that the pullback would only happen after both sides held fire for seven days.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine began after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine in March 2014.

Kiev and the West accuse Russia of sending troops and weaponry across the porous border to fuel the conflict, which has killed over 9,640 people, but Russia denies government involvement.

The sides had agreed to a peace deal brokered by Germany and France in February 2015. The so-called Minsk accords reduced the intensity of fighting but failed to stop it.

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