Pullback of forces in Ukraine’s rebel east is delayed

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Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko speaks during a joint new conference with Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics following their talks in Kyiv, Ukraine, Monday, Oct. 7, 2019. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — A planned pullback of Ukraine’s forces in the rebel east due to begin Monday was delayed because of recent skirmishes, the nation’s foreign minister said.

Ukraine and Russia-backed separatist rebels have agreed to pull their forces from the front line in two areas to create a safe buffer zone. But the move was postponed because of recent shelling by separatists, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko said.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the five-year conflict between Ukrainian troops and Russia-backed rebels.

France and Germany brokered a 2015 peace agreement that envisaged granting a wide autonomy for the rebel east and holding a local election there, but the deal has stalled.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has pushed for the vote in the east, but says a lasting cease-fire must come first.

Last week, Ukraine, Russia and Russia-backed separatists on Tuesday signed a tentative agreement on guidelines for holding the election.

The agreement triggered protests in the Ukrainian capital, where some described it as a major concession to Russia. About 15,000 demonstrators rallied on Kyiv’s main square under placards “Shame!” and “No to capitulation!”

Zelenskiy strongly defended calling the vote in the east, pledging that it would adhere to Ukrainian laws and include candidates from Ukrainian political parties. He cast the deal as an intermediate step needed to organize a summit with the leaders of Russia, France and Germany to push for a peaceful settlement.

Prystaiko said negotiations are now underway to set the date for the four-way summit.

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