Ukraine and Rebels Start Pulling Back Heavy Weapons in Restive East

Image: Ukrainian separatists pulling back heavy weapons from front line
Pro-Russian separatist forces said to be withdrawing heavy weapons from the frontline in Donetsk, Ukraine.LUCA PIERGIOVANNI / EPA

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Ukrainian forces and separatist fighters announced Thursday they are pulling back heavy weapons from the front line in eastern Ukraine. Ukraine's Defense Ministry said it reserved the right to revise its withdrawal plans in the event of an attack by rebel forces, however.

The pullback was supposed to have started more than a week ago under a peace deal agreed on earlier this month by the leaders of Russia and Ukraine to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine that has killed nearly 5,800 people since April.

The intensity of fighting has declined notably in recent days, despite daily charges by both sides that the other is violating the Feb. 15 cease-fire.

Military spokesman Anatoly Stelmakh told the Interfax-Ukraine news agency that government forces on Thursday started moving 100-mm anti-tank guns back to the 16-mile minimum stipulated by the peace deal. AP reporters on Thursday also saw rebel forces moving at least six 120-mm self-propelled howitzers from the front line near Olenivka, a town south of the rebel-held stronghold of Donetsk. Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe planned to report later on the progress of the withdrawal.


— The Associated Press