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Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels agree to pullback of troops

The latest troop withdrawal is less elaborate than last year's cease fire, which broke down before it began. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warns there is no guarantee of success this time, either.

Ukrainian officials and Russian-backed rebel leaders agreed to a withdrawal of troops from three front line areas in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday.

The deal bans military troops from both sides from entering the three areas,each of which comprises four square kilometers (1.5 square miles).

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Ukrainian ceasefire analysis

The pullback is to be completed within three days of when it commences - sometime within the next month.

The latest peace prospects come in response to a new truce agreement on September 15, which has reduced the violence in the region but has failed to end the fighting, which began in April 2014. The separatist movement has killed more than 9,600 soldiers, civilians and pro-Russian rebels.

The foreign ministers of Germany and France first announced the plan during a visit by to Kiev last week.

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The two sides signed a framework agreement for the troop withdrawal in eastern Ukraine on Wednesday, according to Martin Sajdik, a peace envoy for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). He is moderating the protracted peace talks between Ukraine, the rebels and Russia.

"After three months of insistent negotiations... today we finally agreed (to) a framework document on pulling back forces and equipment," Sajdik told journalists after the conclusion of talks in the Belarusian capital, Minsk.

OSCE to monitor truce

Former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, who is representing Kiev during meetings of the so-called contact group, said the deal signed in Minsk delineates three specific areas and will be monitored by the OSCE.

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"This document is intended to de-escalate the situation along the line of contact and effectively creates conditions to prevent the use of firearms," said Darka Olifer, Kuchma's spokeswoman. "Its implementation in those three areas would allow the working-out of approaches for possible separation of forces along the entire line of contact."

The document is a 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.

The original Minsk agreement, which was concluded in September 2014, never led to the agreed cease fire. Likewise, most of the terms of the deal, including restoring control of Ukraine's eastern borders to Kiev and holding regional elections, have yet to be realized.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said much work still needs to be done.

"There are no guarantees even now," said Steinmeier. "If the parties to the conflict are unwilling to stick to already signed agreements, there will be no progress."

bik/kl (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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