Ukraine says weapons withdrawal almost complete
Gov’t, rebels accuse each of stalling
KYIV, Ukraine — Government and rebel forces have pulled back most of their heavy weapons in the east, says Ukraine’s president, but each side accused the other on Tuesday of stalling on complying with other terms of a ceasefire deal.
The cautious optimism articulated by Petro Poroshenko was tempered Tuesday by his foreign minister, who accused rebels of obstructing monitors tasked with verifying the pullback. A rebel spokesman accused Ukrainian forces of falling behind schedule in withdrawing weapons.
Poroshenko said in an interview with a state broadcaster Monday evening that some heavy weaponry remains in place near a combat flashpoint at the airport in the rebel-held city of Donetsk.
Some progress in the arms-withdrawal process hammered out in high-level peace talks last month will boost attempts to bring a definitive end to a conflict that the UN estimates has killed more than 6,000 and displaced almost 1.8 million people.
The pullback is being overseen by hundreds of monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has complained of a lack of co-operation by both of the warring sides.
Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for Ukraine’s military operations in the east, said government forces retain the option of returning the weapons to their original positions if hostilities resume.
“In order not to put our servicemen at risk on the front line, there is some artillery positioned not far away,” he said. “In case of necessity, they will be brought back.”
Lysenko also said troops still on the front line are equipped with heavy infantry weapons needed to repel any rebel advances. He did not specify what kind of weapons front-line troops retain, but the term heavy infantry weaponry typically suggests mortars, grenade launchers and anti-tank guns.
Under the accord reached on Feb. 12 in the Belarusian capital, Minsk, heavy weapons are to be pulled back by distances between 25 and 70 kilometres from the front line, depending on their calibre.