NOVOAMVROSIIVSKE, Ukraine – Separatist fighters in east Ukraine moved rocket launchers to a location 70 kilometres back from the front line with government troops Friday in the first confirmed compliance with a cease-fire agreed earlier this month.
Associated Press journalists in the morning followed four trucks carrying Grad launchers from the rebel stronghold of Donetsk to a cement factory in the village of Novoamvrosiivske, near the Russian border.
The pullback of heavy weapons was supposed to have started over a week ago under a deal agreed by the leaders of Russia and Ukraine to end fighting in Ukraine that has killed nearly 5,800 people since April.
The process is being overseen by hundreds of monitors with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which has complained that both sides in the conflict have delayed and impeded weapons withdrawal. The four rocket launchers seen being moved by rebel forces Friday represents only a small fraction of the firepower believed to be at their disposal.
Separatist officials say that they have been withdrawing arms for several days. There has been no independent confirmation of that claim.
Still, clashes have notably diminished in recent days, signalling that progress has been made in upholding the declared cessation of hostilities.
Interfax-Ukraine news agency cited Ukrainian Defence Ministry spokesman Serhiy Galushko as saying Friday that government forces too have been pulling back their weapons. Ukrainian military officials said Thursday that they started moving 100 mm anti-tank guns back by the 25-kilometre minimum, as stipulated by the peace deal. The heaviest arms should be moved back by 70 kilometres.