Kiev, separatists pull back troops

The move is a confidence-building measure ahead of peace talks at the end of November

Ukrainian government troops and Russian-backed separatists have begun withdrawing from a key front-line area in eastern Ukraine. The country foreign minister Vadym Prystaiko said a planned troop withdrawal in the town of Zolote, in the eastern Luhansk region, started today, a confidence-building measure ahead of peace talks that he hopes will take place at the end of November.

"The withdrawal is taking place right now, we are beginning (the process) today," Prystayko said at an investment forum in the city of Mariupol, adding that the process was delayed due to preparations by the OSCE mission.

Prystaiko said shooting in Zolote stopped on 17 October and the withdrawal began last Tuesday once OSCE international monitors were there to check compliance by both sides. He added that after the withdrawal process in Zolote is over, Kiev will start withdrawing its forces from the nearby town of Petrivske.

A separatist official quoted by Russia's RIA news agency said both sides had fired coloured signalling rockets to mark both sides' withdrawal.

A deal was agreed last month to end the Donbas region's five-year conflict.Under the deal, both sides were to start withdrawing from their positions in the towns of Zolote and Petrivske on 9 October.But there were skirmishes between Ukrainian police and war veterans, who tried to prevent the troop pullout.

On 26 October Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy visited the scene and ordered the war veterans to disarm.

Zelenskiy, who rose to the presidency earlier this year on promises to end the conflict, accepted the withdrawal plan, known as the Steinmeier Formula, earlier in October. The formula lays the groundwork for reinvigorating the larger peace deals known loosely as the Minsk Accords, and the first major international summit on the Ukraine conflict in three years.

Zelenskiy's support of the plan has drawn opposition from right-wing groups, some veteran groups, and activists in Ukraine. The president told reporters on 10 October that the plan proposed in 2016 by then-German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier would be enshrined in a new “special status” law for the separatist-controlled territories and drafted only after a summit of Ukraine, Germany, France, and Russia - the so-called Normandy format - takes place.

Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014 and backed a separatist movement in Ukraine’s easternmost regions of Luhansk and Donetsk after Viktor Yanukovych, the pro-Kremlin president, was overthrown and Western-leaning Petro Poroshenko was elected president the same year.

More than 13,000 people have died from the conflict since April 2014. Moscow has repeatedly denied its role in funding, arming, or training the rebels despite overwhelming evidence, insisting that Kiev faces a civil war.

Both sides have agreed to modest troop withdrawals in certain areas but these have been disrupted by ceasefire violations. Ukraine hopes talks between the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany in the so-called Normandy Format will help achieve a lasting ceasefire for the region.


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