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Ukraine Conflict: Cease-Fire Announced by World Leaders in Minsk

World leaders announced on Thursday a cease-fire to the violence in eastern Ukraine that has claimed more than 5,000 lives.
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/ Source: Reuters

MOSCOW — World leaders announced on Thursday a cease-fire to the violence in eastern Ukraine that has claimed more than 5,000 lives and forced hundreds of thousands more to flee their homes.

The truce, set to kick in midnight on Saturday, came after marathon talks between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany in the Belarusian capital Minsk.

"We now have a glimmer of hope," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel following the breakthrough. "There is a real chance to turn things for the better."

The deal, details of which were posted on the Kremlin website, included a full pardon for rebel fighters, an all-for-all prisoner swap, and the removal of "all foreign forces...and mercenaries from Ukraine."

Local elections would be held in rebel-held areas and these regions would be given more autonomous control from the capital Kiev. The eastern areas would have no say in Ukrainian foreign policy, the document said, and Ukrainian forces would be in control of the now-porous Russian border.

The announcement came as the International Monetary Fund announced it was to contribute to a $40 billion bailout fund for cash-strapped Ukraine over the next four years.

However, that despite the breakthrough, Merkel said "great hurdles will be lying in front of us."

"I have no illusion — we have no illusion: A lot, lot of work is still needed," the German leader said.

One of these hurdles appeared to be Putin's statement that he and Poroshenko still disagreed on how to end the ongoing conflict around the key transport hub of Debaltseve, according to the AP. The rebels say government troops are surrounded in the town and expect them to surrender, while Ukraine says its forces have been blocked in, Putin said.

The fighting between Ukrainian government troops and pro-Russia rebels has intensified in recent weeks and killed more than 5,300 people in total, according to United Nations figures. Despite the ongoing talks this week, both rebels and government troops reported fighting across eastern Ukraine.

As President Barack Obama considers rising calls at home for sending U.S. lethal aid to Ukraine, European leaders fear that would only aggravate the fight, according to Reuters. Russia, meanwhile, faces a severe economic downturn driven in part by sanctions the West has imposed for supporting the separatists with troops and equipment, which Russia vehemently denies it is doing.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report. Carlo Angerer reported from Mainz, Germany, and Alexander Smith reported from London.