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Ukraine buffer zone deal offers chance to 'feel secure'

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Members of the Ukrainian government forces, who are POWs, stand along a road next to a Ukrainian soldier, after they were exchanged, north of Donetsk. Both the government forces and the pro-Russian separatists are exchanging POWs under the terms of the current ceasefire. Photo credit: REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Members of the Ukrainian government forces, who are POWs, stand along a road next to a Ukrainian soldier, after they were exchanged, north of Donetsk. Both the government forces and the pro-Russian separatists are exchanging POWs under the terms of the current ceasefire. Photo credit: REUTERS/Marko Djurica

REUTERS

Members of the Ukrainian government forces, who are POWs, stand along a road next to a Ukrainian soldier, after they were exchanged, north of Donetsk. Both the government forces and the pro-Russian separatists are exchanging POWs under the terms of the current ceasefire. Photo credit: REUTERS/Marko Djurica

Negotiators in Ukrainian peace talks agreed yesterday to create a buffer zone between government troops and pro-Russian militants by halting their advances, pulling back heavy weapons and withdrawing foreign fighters in order to ensure a stable truce in eastern Ukraine.

The deal -reached by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the Moscow-backed rebels and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe - marks an effort to add substance to a cease-fire agreement that was signed on September 5 but has been frequently broken by clashes.

The memorandum - signed after hours of talks that dragged into the early hours of yesterday morning - says that the conflicting parties should stay strictly where they were on Friday and make no attempts to advance.

Leonid Kuchma, a former Ukrainian president who represented the Kiev government in the talks, said the memorandum would be implemented within a day.

Under the terms of the deal, reached in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, each party must pull back artillery of 100 millimetres (about four inches) or larger at least 15 kilometres, setting up a buffer zone that would be 30 kilometres wide. The longer-range artillery systems are to be pulled even further back, to make sure the parties can't reach one another. The deal also bans flights by combat aircraft over the area of conflict and setting up new minefields.

"It should offer the population a chance to feel secure," said Igor Plotnitskyi, the leader of rebels in the Luhansk region. The rebels are located near the cities of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine and the port city of Mariupol on the Sea Azov coast, but their positions elsewhere are not clear. Ukrainian government forces are at the airport in Donetsk, but the location of their lines outside of that city is also unclear.

The memorandum also envisages the withdrawal of "all foreign armed units and weapons, as well as militants and mercenaries" - a diplomatic reference to Russians fighting alongside the rebels.

Ukraine and the West have accused Russia of fuelling the insurgency in eastern Ukraine with weapons and soldiers. Moscow has denied that, saying that Russians who joined the mutiny did so as private citizens.

Pressed to comment about the agreement on the withdrawal of foreign fighters, Russian Ambassador to Ukraine, Mikhail Zurabov, who represented Moscow in the talks, said that "those whom we call mercenaries are present on both sides".

"This issue needs to be solved, and we will deal with it," he said, adding that the OSCE would control the pull out. Heidi Tagliavini, the OSCE's envoy, said that the group's monitors will be deployed to the buffer zone to monitor the ceasefire.

Sunday Independent