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Buffer Zone OK'd in Ukraine Peace Talks09/20 09:51

   Negotiators in Ukrainian peace talks agreed early Saturday 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.

   MINSK, Belarus (AP) -- Negotiators in Ukrainian peace talks agreed early 
Saturday 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 Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe marks an 
effort to add substance to a cease-fire agreement that was signed on Sept. 5 
but has been frequently broken by clashes.

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

   Leonid Kuchma, a former Ukrainian president who represented the Kiev 
government in the talks, said the memorandum will 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 millimeters (about 4 inches) or larger at 
least 15 kilometers (9 miles), setting up a buffer zone that would be 30 
kilometers (19 miles) wide.

   The longer-range artillery systems are to be pulled even farther back to 
make sure the parties can't reach one another.

   The deal also specifically 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 

   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 fueling 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 pullout.

   Heidi Tagliavini, the OSCE's envoy in the talks, said that the group's 
monitors will be deployed to the buffer zone to monitor the cease-fire.

   The cease-fire that was declared Sept. 5 has been repeatedly violated. On 
Saturday, Ukrainian national security council spokesman Volodymyr Polyoviy said 
about 20 rebels had been killed in clashes with Ukrainian forces over the past 
day, along with one Ukrainian serviceman.

   In Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city, strong explosions broke out on 
Saturday morning at a munitions factory. A local official, Ivan Pirkhodko, said 
on Ukrainian television that the explosions were triggered by an artillery 
shell striking the plant, but it was not clear which side fired it.

   The agreement reached Saturday could be a significant step forward if it is 
adhered to, but negotiators have not yet addressed the most difficult issue --- 
the future status of the rebel regions.

   The insurgency in the mostly Russian-speaking Donetsk and Luhansk regions in 
eastern Ukraine flared up after the ouster of Ukraine's former pro-Russian 
president in February and Russia's annexation of Crimea the following month.

   In April, the rebels seized government buildings in the two provinces and 
declared them independent. They fought government troops to a standstill in 
five months of fighting that have killed more than 3,000 people and devastated 
the regions that formed Ukraine's industrial heartland.

   The Ukrainian crisis has pushed Russia-West relations to their lowest point 
since the Cold War. Faced with several rounds of Western sanctions that badly 
hurt the Russian economy, Russia's President Vladimir Putin has pushed for a 
peace deal that would ease Western pressure while protecting Moscow's interests 
in Ukraine.

   As part of a compromise to end the hostilities, the Ukrainian parliament 
this week passed a law giving a broad autonomy to the areas controlled by the 
rebels, including the power to hold local elections and form their own police 

   Alexander Zakharchenko, the leader of rebels in Donetsk, said after the 
talks that Ukraine and the rebels have conflicting interpretations of the law 
and the talks should continue.

   In Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city in east Ukraine, the separatists 
held a city-wide cleanup day Friday, sending prisoners out to help remove the 
debris that has piled up after months of shelling.

   Throughout the cease-fire, periods of peace have been interrupted by 
intermittent gunfire. The same was true Friday, when the Donetsk city council 
said in a statement that one person was killed by shelling during the night. 
Col. Andriy Lysenko, a spokesman for the National Security and Defense Council, 
told journalists in Kiev that two servicemen were killed in the past day during 
the fighting.

   The streets were quiet Friday as the rebels called for a cleanup. In one 
school that was shelled in late August, four Ukrainian prisoners guarded by 
armed rebels were sweeping up debris.


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