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Fresh ceasefire appears to hold for now in eastern Ukraine

by Reuters
Monday, 20 February 2017 12:35 GMT

Ukrainian servicemen rest at their position on the front line near the government-held town of Avdiyivka, Ukraine, February 8, 2017. REUTERS/Oleksandr Klymenko

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The close proximity of opposing sides and continued use of heavy weapons prompted leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine to call for renewed efforts to implement peace agreement

By Pavel Polityuk

AVDIYIVKA, Ukraine, Feb 20 (Reuters) - Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed separatists appeared to be respecting a new ceasefire attempt on Monday after international powers called for shelling to stop and for the withdrawal of banned heavy weapons.

In recent weeks, the area around the government-held town of Avdiyivka has seen some of the heaviest artillery fire of the past two years, refocusing global attention on a simmering conflict that has strained relations between Russia and the West.

Violence has since lessened, but the close proximity of the opposing sides and continued use of heavy weapons prompted the leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine to call on Sunday for renewed efforts to implement the terms of the much-violated Minsk peace agreement of 2015.

As of Monday morning, each side acknowledged that the other was complying.

"Today, as of 1200 (1000 GMT), the enemy has not used heavy weapons," Ukrainian military spokesman Oleksandr Motozyanyk said.

In Avdiyivka, a Reuters witness said no artillery or gunfire could be heard. "The ceasefire was announced yesterday at 1700. It's being respected for now," the head of the local administration, Pavlo Malykhin, told Reuters.

Senior separatist official Eduard Basurin said shelling from the Ukrainian side had stopped at midnight on Sunday, separatist website DAN reported.

"The withdrawal (of heavy artillery) will happen after 24 hours of ceasefire and the main condition is that it be synchronised: if we withdraw, then the Ukrainian side withdraw also," he said.

Around 10,000 people have been killed since fighting erupted in eastern regions in April 2014, following a pro-European uprising in Kiev and the ouster of a Moscow-backed president.

The French and German governments on Monday criticised Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to temporarily recognise travel and other documents issued by the separatist regions, saying this ran contrary to the Minsk accord.

In a separate development, the Kremlin said it had no prior knowledge of a peace plan by a Ukrainian lawmaker, reported in The New York Times, and said it was absurd.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kiev; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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