Ceasefire in war-torn eastern Ukraine to begin at midnight

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian and rebel forces in war-torn eastern Ukraine have started preparing for a “full and comprehensive” ceasefire scheduled to begin at midnight.

Rebel officials said Sunday they have instructed their troops about the ceasefire and issued a decree banning the use of weapons. Ukraine’s military said their forces “have begun preparations” for the ceasefire.

If upheld, it would “pave the way for implementing other clauses” of the Minsk peace deal, the office of Ukraine’s president said.

Brokered in 2015 by France and Germany, the Minsk peace plan aimed to resolved the conflict between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists that flared in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea and its support for the separatists. The conflict has since killed more than 14,000.

The deal envisaged that Ukraine can regain control over its border with Russia in the separatist-held regions only after they are granted broad self-rule and hold local elections. The accord helped reduce the scope of hostilities, but Ukrainian forces and the rebels have continued to exchange artillery salvos and gunfire.

In December, the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany met in Paris for another round of talks, expressing support for the 2015 deal and agreeing to revive the peace process.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who won the 2019 election on promises to end the conflict, pushed to tweak the timeline laid out in the accord so Ukraine gets control of its border first before local elections, but the Kremlin insists the deal should be implemented without any revisions.

The new ceasefire deal was reached Wednesday by members of the Tripartite Contact Group that includes representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe. Zelenskiy’s office called it “a breakthrough,” adding that a full and comprehensive cease-fire is “a basic prerequisite” of the Minsk agreements.

The deal was welcomed by EU officials.

During his traditional Sunday blessing in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis also commended the cease-fire, adding that it needed to be put into practice ″to rebuild confidence and lay the foundations for a much needed and long awaited reconciliation with the people.″

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