Ukraine, pro-Russian rebels sign agreement on ceasefire in east Ukraine: Interfax

 A Ukrainian serviceman loads a shell onto a tank at a checkpoint in the coastal town of Mariupol on Sept 5, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
 A Ukrainian serviceman loads a shell onto a tank at a checkpoint in the coastal town of Mariupol on Sept 5, 2014. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels signed an agreement on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine starting at 6pm local time on Friday, Russian news agency Interfax quoted a source close to the talks as saying.

Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko confirmed on his Twitter account that envoys meeting in Minsk to end fighting between Kiev's forces and pro-Russian separatists had signed a ceasefire agreement that would come into effect later on Friday. He gave no further details.

Mr Serhiy Taruta, governor of eastern Ukraine's Donetsk region, where most of the current fighting is raging, also confirmed the signing and said he was awaiting details of the agreement.

The Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) also confirmed the ceasefire. Representatives of the warring parties have signed a protocol declaring a ceasefire at 3pm GMT on Friday, Ms Heidi Tagliavini, an OSCE representative at talks in Minsk told reporters.

The ceasefire could leave the political status of Ukraine's economically-vital east uncertain and expose Poroshenko to charges from some in Ukraine that he has surrendered to Russian pressure.

Rebel leaders who have been battling Kiev's rule since April - soon after Russian troops seized control of the Crimea region in Ukraine - also say they remain set on their goal of splitting from Kiev's rule.

Separately, Ukraine's Prime Minister Arseny Yatseniuk said in a televised Cabinet meeting in Kiev that the peace plan must include three key elements - a ceasefire, the withdrawal of"Russian forces and Russian bandits and terrorists" and the restoration of Ukraine's state border with Russia.

Meanwhile, Nato would stand by a 1997 agreement on cooperation with Russia even though Moscow has breached it through its actions in Ukraine, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Friday.

She told a news conference that leaders of the 28-nation alliance agreed at a summit in Wales that the Nato-Russia Founding Act remained a key part of Europe's security architecture. Cooperation was suspended in March after Russia seized and annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Dr Merkel said new European Union sanctions, due to be adopted on Friday over what she called Russia's illegal troop presence in eastern Ukraine, could be suspended if a promised ceasefire materialised and the crisis de-escalated.

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