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Ukraine Rebels Say Weapons Pullback Under Way

by VOA News February 24, 2015

Rebels in war-torn eastern Ukraine said they have begun pulling back heavy weapons from the frontlines, as required by an internationally brokered cease-fire.

Top rebel commander Eduard Basurin said the withdrawal began at 9 a.m. local time Tuesday. The move could not be independently confirmed.

Ukrainian military officials have not responded, but have insisted they will not pull weapons off the frontlines as long as the fighting continues.

Kyiv said rebel attacks persisted Tuesday near the port city of Mariupol and near Debaltseve, which the Russia-backed separatists captured last week.

The violence has led to doubts about whether the cease-fire, which was supposed to begin February 15, can end the conflict. The fighting has killed more than 5,600 people in the last 10 months.

​​Meetings to discuss Ukraine

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which is monitoring the truce, is expected to brief the U.N. Security Council Tuesday at 3 p.m. EST (2000 GMT).

The foreign ministers of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany agreed on Tuesday to seek a reinforcement of the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine and renewed calls for an oft-breached ceasefire agreement to be respected.

The conclusions of the some three-hour meeting in Paris were read by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

Earlier, his Ukrainian counterpart told reporters that "unfortunately" the four had not been able to reach an agreement on condemning events on the ground in Debaltseve, a strategic town taken by pro-Russian rebels.

Hours ahead of the foreign ministers' meeting, Russia's state-owned gas giant Gazprom warned it could cut off gas deliveries to Ukraine within days and warned of a disruption of supplies to the rest of Europe.

Gazprom said in a statement that Ukraine's alleged failure to make a prepayment in time 'will in two days lead to a complete termination of the Russian gas supplies to Ukraine, which creates serious risks for the gas transit to Europe.'

Europe gets about a third of its gas from Russia. Around half of it flows through Ukraine.

Gazprom halted supplies to Ukraine for six months beginning in June due to unpaid bills, a move that followed the ouster of Ukraine's Russia-friendly leader and the Kremlin's annexation of Crimea.

Last week, Gazprom began supplying gas directly to the parts of eastern Ukraine held by the Moscow-backed separatists.

Plea for peacekeepers

Kyiv has accused Russia and its separatist neighbors of ignoring the truce, which was brokered by the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France.

In New York Monday, Ukraine's foreign minister pleaded with the 15-member U.N. Security Council to send peacekeepers to eastern Ukraine. He also accused Russia-backed rebels of ongoing attacks elsewhere in the east, and accused 'militants and their Russian masters' of blocking European monitors from policing the withdrawal of heavy weaponry from frontline positions.

Earlier Monday, Ukraine's military said it could not begin withdrawing heavy weapons from the frontlines as called for in the cease-fire deal, because rebels were still carrying out attacks on targets near the Russian border.

Russia has repeatedly denied supplying direct aid to rebels and said Russian soldiers seen fighting alongside rebels during the 10-month rebellion are doing so as volunteers.

Some material for this report came from Reuters.



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