Ukraine pulls heavy rocket launchers back from frontline

Kiev said Friday it had withdrawn all its Uragan multiple rocket launchers from the main conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, in compliance with a ceasefire agreement with pro-Russian rebels.

Artemivsk: Kiev said Friday it had withdrawn all its Uragan multiple rocket launchers from the main conflict zone in eastern Ukraine, in compliance with a ceasefire agreement with pro-Russian rebels.

Two of the imposing Uragan (Hurricane) rocket launchers -- equipped with 16 launch tubes for 220mm rockets -- were being readied for loading on to a train alongside at least ten howitzer cannons in the eastern town of Artemivsk, an AFP photographer reported.

The headquarters of Kiev`s eastern military operations said on its Facebook page that all the Uragan had been pulled back from their positions, following the withdrawal of smaller calibre systems such as Grad missile launchers.

The army still has to move back its Tochka short-range ballistic missile systems as part of the deal signed in Minsk in February under which both sides agreed to move heavy artillery 25 kilometres (15 miles) from the frontline in order to create a secure buffer zone.

Such notoriously imprecise weapons have caused most of the civilian destruction in the nearly 11-month conflict that the UN says has left 6,000 dead, and their use on both sides has been slammed by human rights organisations.

While both sides say they are complying with the pullback of heavy weapons in the oft-violated ceasefire, they accuse each other of only pretending to do so.

The security headquarters in Mariupol, a large city in southern Donetsk region still controlled by Kiev, accused the rebels in a statement of pulling back their equipment only to "return it shortly thereafter." 

And the defence minister of the self-proclaimed separatist Donetsk People`s Republic Eduard Basurin was quoted as saying by Russian agencies that Ukraine was carrying out "covert rotation" of its forces.

Ukraine and the EU want to boost the presence of international OSCE monitors, whose mission constantly reports being restricted from accessing certain areas, in a bid to better observe the weapons withdrawal.

Ukraine on Friday reported no military casualties in the east but accused rebels of firing on its positions. 

The army has said 48 troops have been killed since the ceasefire went into effect on February 15, but figures are likely to be higher, particularly after intense clashes in Debaltseve, a key railway hub south of Artemivsk which Kiev ended up ceding to separatists on February 18.

A representative of Ukraine`s security services (SBU) Markiyan Lubkivsky wrote on Facebook Friday that the rebels had handed over the bodies of 50 soldiers and volunteers who had died in Debaltseve and other combat zones.

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