Ukraine warring sides announce withdrawal of small arms

Kiev, October 3

Warring sides in Ukraine today began withdrawing tanks and smaller weapons from a buffer zone in the war-torn east a day after the leaders of France and Germany met Vladimir Putin for peace talks.

The announcement of the beginning of the small-weapons withdrawal came after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko voiced cautious optimism over the future of a peace deal but said the war was not over.

“There is a truce,” he told reporters after more than four hours of talks in Paris. “The war will be over when the

last patch of Ukrainian land is liberated. As long as there is occupied territory the war is not over.”

Both government forces and rebels from the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic said today that the withdrawal of tanks and smaller weapons would begin immediately.

But their fellow rebels from the neighbouring Donetsk People’s Republic said they would follow suit after October 18 if the ceasefire holds.

“This work has started this morning,” Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters, adding that the actual pullback would begin Saturday afternoon. “We expect the same from the militants who rushed to say that some tank column had already begun moving.

But no one knows where it is heading.” Moscow-backed rebels and government forces had this week agreed to withdraw tanks as well as light weapons from a buffer zone beginning today to shore up the brittle ceasefire. The pullback builds on a western-backed peace deal agreed in the Belarussian capital Minsk in February.

Rebels from the self-proclaimed Lugansk People’s Republic announced today that they had already started pulling back their tanks.

“People’s militia of the Lugansk People’s Republic has begun a withdrawal of tanks from the line of contact in accordance with the Minsk deal,” said the official news agency of the rebel region.

The deal will take more than 40 days to implement and see each side’s mortar shells and rockets with a calibre of less than 100 millimetres moved 15 kilometres away from the so-called line of contact.

Rebels from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic said they would wait however to see if the ceasefire holds. “This will be after the 18th on condition that everything is quiet,” a senior separatist commander, Eduard Basurin, told local reporters. “It is up to the OSCE, which is a guarantor, to determine the time.”

Ukraine’s Poroshenko met yesterday with the leaders of Russia, France and Germany in Paris in the latest push to end a conflict that has claimed more than 8,000 lives since April 2014.

Over the past few weeks fighting has all but stopped but even if small weapons are withdrawn, a number of other sticking points remain, including first and foremost rival elections planned by Kiev and the rebel regions.

After the Paris meeting, French President Francois Hollande and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said

the leaders had agreed that rebel votes planned on October 18 and November 1 could not go ahead.”We don’t want elections to take place in eastern Ukraine that do not respect the Minsk deal,” Hollande said.

Rebels and Moscow did not immediately comment on the announcement, however.The rebels, who seek greater autonomy within a united Ukraine, want to hold local elections on their own terms.