Kiev: Kiev and pro-Russian insurgents struck a vital agreement today to withdraw their entire arsenal of smaller weapons from the buffer zone splitting eastern rebel-held lands from the rest of Ukraine.
International monitors said the two sides' February commitment to pull back heavy weapons from the 500-kilometre (300-mile) line separating their forces was repeatedly violated, causing more than 1,000 deaths.
But a new truce that went into effect on September 1 has been strictly observed, raising hopes that the fighting in which more than 8,000 have died since early last year is finally approaching an end.
The long-debated small weapons pullback should also add impetus to high-stakes talks between President Petro Poroshenko and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Paris on Friday that will also include the leaders of Germany and France.
"The withdrawal of weapons...Is an important step toward securing the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a statement.
"However, this is not enough," he added. "Many other points of the (February) agreement have still to be implemented. I hope both Kiev and Moscow are prepared to work toward this."
Today's pact will take 41 days to implement and see each sides' mortar shells and rockets with a calibre of less than 100 millimetres moved 15 kilometres (nine miles) away from the so-called "line of contact".
Both the rebel leaders and Kiev hailed the deal's signature and vowed to implement its terms.
"We view this is as a diplomatic victory," Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters in Kiev.
"We are certain that this is another step toward establishing peace in the conflict zone."
Donetsk separatist leader Alexander Zakharchenko called the bitter enemies' ability to reach a compromise after nearly four months of acrimonious negotiations "undisputed progress".
The self-declared "People's Republic of Donetsk will unequivocally implement its part of the agreement," he said in a statement published on the separatists' official news site.
"However, the length of this negotiating process gives us reason to doubt the sincerity of the Ukrainian side," he added.
Ukraine's pro-Western leadership and the Moscow-allied insurgents still remain far apart over rebel plans to soon stage their own local elections that Kiev has branded as "fake".