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Ukraine troops recognise ceasefire, artillery towed away

The move was Kiev's most direct step to acknowledge that the ceasefire was finally holding

FILE: The move was Kiev's most direct step to acknowledge that the ceasefire was finally holding. Picture: AFP.

PARASKOVIYVKA/DONETSK - Ukrainian troops towed artillery away from the front line in the east on Thursday, a move that amounted to recognising that a ceasefire meant to take effect on 15 February was holding at last.

The military showed reporters seven or eight guns being towed away from the front at the village of Paraskoviyvka north of the government stronghold of Artemivsk. Earlier, Reuters journalists saw a larger convoy of 30-40 vehicles also towing guns away from the front on a highway.

The move was Kiev's most direct step to acknowledge that the ceasefire was finally holding, a week after suffering one of the worst defeats of the war at the hands of rebels who initially ignored the ceasefire to launch a major advance.

The pro-Russian rebels, who committed to the truce after their successful offensive, have been pulling back heavy weapons for two days, but Kiev had until now held back from implementing the withdrawal, arguing that fighting had not yet ceased.

However, the army reported no combat fatalities at the front for a second straight day on Thursday, the first time no troops have been killed since long before the French-and German-brokered truce was meant to take effect.

The withdrawal of artillery is "point two" of the peace agreement reached in the Belarus capital Minsk, so beginning it amounts to an acknowledgement that "point one" - the ceasefire itself - is being observed.

"Today Ukraine has begun the withdrawal of 100 millimeter guns from the line of confrontation," the military said in a statement, saying the step would be monitored by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

It said it reserved the right to alter the schedule of withdrawal "in the event of any attempted offensive".

Reuters journalists in rebel-held Donetsk said they had heard no artillery in the night although the occasional distant blast or gunshot could be heard during the day.