- Deal signed in Minsk to withdraw heavy weapons in three areas
- Accord follows last week’s latest attempt at cease-fire
Officials meeting to advance the peace process in eastern Ukraine agreed that the warring parties would initiate a partial withdrawal of heavy weaponry from the battlefield.
The so-called contact group -- consisting of Ukraine, the separatists its army has been fighting, Russia and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- signed a pact Wednesday covering three areas inside the conflict zone. The deal also bans the use of light arms in those areas, the group said after meeting in the Belarusian capital of Minsk.
While the conflict in Ukraine’s easternmost regions has eased since a February 2015 peace accord, also signed in Minsk, it remains far from a lasting resolution. The latest attempt at a cease-fire began last week after violations sank previous truces and pushed the overall death toll toward 10,000. In a bid to stem the revival of Cold War tensions, officials from Germany, France and the U.K. visited Kiev this month and called for further steps to bolster security.
“The Ukrainian side supposes that while implementing this agreement, approaches for a possible withdrawal along the entire contact line may be worked out,” Darka Olifer, a spokeswoman for Ukraine’s representative at the Minsk talks, said on Facebook.
While Ukraine’s military has reported fewer attacks since the rebels initiated the latest cease-fire, President Petro Poroshenko said last week that the truce alone isn’t enough for him to proceed with controversial political overhauls, including granting the separatist regions more power. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the security and political parts of last year’s Minsk pact should be carried out in parallel.
During a meeting with Poroshenko in New York this week, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden reiterated the importance of full implementation of the stalled Minsk accord.