Pro-Moscow separatists say begin tank withdrawal in east Ukraine

Leaders attend a meeting on Ukrainian crisis at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Oct 2, 2015.
Leaders attend a meeting on Ukrainian crisis at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Oct 2, 2015.PHOTO: EPA/ALEXEI DRUGININ / RIA NOVOSTI / KREMLIN POOL

KIEV (AFP) - Pro-Moscow rebels announced on Saturday (Oct 3) that they had begun withdrawing tanks from the buffer zone between warring forces in eastern Ukraine a day after key peace talks in Paris.

"People's militia of the Lugansk People's Republic has begun a withdrawal of tanks from the line of contact in accordance with a Minsk deal," said the official news agency of the rebel region.

The warring sides had this week agreed to withdraw tanks as well as light weapons from a buffer zone between their forces beginning Saturday.

The deal will take more than 40 days to implement and see each sides' mortar shells and rockets with a calibre of less than 100mm moved 15km away from the line of engagement.

The pullback is in line with a Western-backed peace deal agreed in the Belarussian capital Minsk in February.

On Friday, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko met the leaders of Russia, France and Germany in Paris in their latest push to end to a conflict that claimed more than 8,000 lives since April 2014.

"The withdrawal will begin from tomorrow," Poroshenko told reporters in Paris on Friday. "All technical issues including coordination with the OSCE have been completed."

Over the past few weeks fighting has all but stopped in east Ukraine and peace appears closer than ever in a conflict that pitted Ukraine against Russia.

Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of covertly supporting the rebels with troops and weapons, a claim Moscow denies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has over the past days shifted Western attention away from the Ukraine conflict by ramping up Moscow's military presence in its war-torn Soviet-ally Syria and launching air strikes against Islamic State militants.