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Ukraine rebels 'withdraw,' Kyiv skeptical

March 1, 2015

Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine's Donbass region claim they have withdrawn heavy weapons from the front line in accordance with a deal signed in Minsk. Kyiv's military claims militia are using the truce to regroup.

Ukraine Separatisten in Debalzewe
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/ P. Leonard

Senior rebel commander Eduard Basurin on Sunday claimed that the separatists had withdrawn heavy weapons from the front lines in accordance with a ceasefire signed last month in Minsk.

Basurin, a spokesman for the self-declared Donetsk People's Republic, was reported by Russia's Interfax news agency as saying that the final step of the pullback - the withdrawal of four Grad howitzers - had been carried out by the separatists around the city.

"The withdrawal was carried out under control of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE)," said Basurin. Interfax also reported that the withdrawal had been completed in neighboring Luhansk.

The Ukrainian government said that the ceasefire was largely holding, and that no shots had been fired on Saturday night. Kyiv has complained that shots and shells were fired at its military positions on Saturday, a claim that was dismissed by rebels.

Ukraine Rückzug der Armee aus Ostukraine OSZE Beobacher
Ukrainian troops also claim to have pulled back their own heavy weaponryImage: Reuters/G. Garanich

Serhiy Nikolayev, a staff photographer for the Segodnya newspaper, was said to have been killed in shelling on Saturday in the village of Pisky, on the Ukrainian side of the front. Both sides have blamed each other for that death, and that of a Ukrainian soldier also reported killed on Saturday.

Doubts surface over intentions

The deputy head of the 450-strong OSCE group overseeing the ceasefire, Alexander Hug, said that although both sides were moving weapons, it was unclear whether they were withdrawing.

But the Ukrainian military said on Sunday that there was intelligence to suggest the pro-Russia militants were using the ceasefire to regroup. Military spokesman Andriy Lysenko said he believed that major targets were the port of Mariupol and the town of Artemivsk.

Terms of the Minsk deal include the withdrawal of heavy weaponry as well as the establishment of a demilitarized zone and the beginning of dialogue between the Ukrainian government and rebel groups.

rc/bk (dpa, AP, Reuters)