Buffer zone agreed upon in Ukrainian peace talks

Sporadic artillery fire hit parts of eastern Ukraine today, hours after negotiators agreed to create a buffer zone between government troops and pro-Russian militants by halting their advances, pulling back heavy weapons and withdrawing foreign fighters.

Minsk: Sporadic artillery fire hit parts of eastern Ukraine today, hours after negotiators agreed to create a buffer zone between government troops and pro-Russian militants by halting their advances, pulling back heavy weapons and withdrawing foreign fighters.

Despite positive developments coming out of talks in the Belarusian capital of Minsk and a cease-fire that has been in place since Sep 5, the fighting between the two sides was still deadly.

In Donetsk, the largest rebel-held city, strong explosions could be heard from a munitions factory that a local official said was hit by an artillery shell.

It was unclear which side fired it. Explosions were heard in three areas of the city in the afternoon, the city council said.

The Interior Ministry said rebels had opened fire on the village of Stakhanovets in the Luhansk region, but it had no immediate information on casualties.

Ukrainian national security council spokesman Volodymyr Polyoviy said today that about 20 rebels and one soldier had been killed in clashes but did not specify if those took place after the negotiators agreed on the buffer zone around 4 am.

The deal reached by representatives of Ukraine, Russia, the Moscow-backed rebels and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe marks an effort to add substance to a cease-fire agreement that has been frequently broken.

The signed deal says the two sides should stay where they were yesterday and make no attempt to advance.

Leonid Kuchma, a former Ukrainian president who represented the Kiev government at the talks, said the memorandum will be implemented within a day.

Under the deal, each party must pull back artillery of 100 millimeters (about 4 inches) or larger at least 15 kilometers (9 miles), setting up a buffer zone that would be 30 kilometers (19 miles) wide. The longer-range artillery systems are to be pulled even farther back to make sure the parties can't reach one another.

The deal also specifically bans flights by combat aircraft over the area of conflict and setting up new minefields.

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