Ukraine disputes rebel’s claims of a heavy weapon pullback

World Today

Vasily Yakovenko, captain of a Ukrainian military medical unit, pats a dog near the village of Luhanske, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015. Ukrainian officials said they haven’’t yet started pulling heavy weapons back from a frontline in eastern Ukraine because of continued rebel violations of a cease-fire deal. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)

Artillery was seen moving east on Tuesday from the largest rebel-held city in eastern Ukraine further into separatist-controlled territory, but the Ukrainian government disputed the rebels’ claim that a heavy weapons’ pullback had begun.

A peace plan worked out in marathon talks on Feb. 12 aimed to create a wide buffer zone between separatists’ and Ukrainian forces’ weaponry as part of efforts to end the conflict that has left nearly 5,800 dead since April.

While Eduard Basurin, a top commander for rebels in the Donetsk region, said his side had begun a large-scale pullback of heavy weapons in line with the peace plan, the claim could not be verified.

The Ukrainian military dismissed the rebel pullback claim and said its forces would not draw their weapons away until a cease-fire takes hold.

A rebel official in the separatist Luhansk region claimed that Ukrainian forces had begun a partial pullback themselves, but Ukrainian military spokesman Colonel Andriy Lysenko said no Ukrainian moves were underway.

The rebels “are just regrouping their gangs and are relocating their weapons,” he told reporters. “As soon as there is a cease-fire for two days, that is the signal to start a withdrawal.”

Associated Press journalists saw about a dozen howitzers moving from the rebel-held city of Donetsk through the town of Khartsyzk, six miles east of the line of conflict.

Their final destination was unclear.

Report from The Associated Press