Ceasefire in war-torn eastern Ukraine to begin at midnight

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KYIV, Ukraine (AP) – Ukrainian and rebel forces in war-torn eastern Ukraine have started preparing for a “full and comprehensive” ceasefire scheduled to begin at midnight on Monday.

Rebel officials said Sunday they have instructed their troops about the ceasefire and issued a decree banning weapon use. Ukraine’s military said their forces “have begun preparations” for the ceasefire.

If upheld, it would “pave the way for implementing other clauses” of the Minsk peace deal, the office of Ukraine’s president said earlier this week.

Brokered in 2015 by France and Germany, the Minsk agreements aimed to resolved the conflict between Ukraine and Russia-backed separatists that flared up in 2014 after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The conflict has since killed more than 14,000.

The agreements envisaged that Ukraine can regain control over the border with Russia in the separatist-held regions only after they are granted broad self-rule and hold local elections.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who won the 2018 election on promises to end the conflict, pushed for tweaking the timeline laid out in the accord so that Ukraine gets control of its border first before local elections are held, but the Kremlin insists the deal should be implemented without any revisions.

The Minsk deal helped reduce the scope of hostilities, but Ukrainian forces and the rebels have continued to exchange artillery salvos and gunfire.

The new ceasefire deal was reached on Wednesday and was welcomed by EU officials.

During his traditional Sunday blessing in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Frances also commended the deal, adding that it needed to be put into practice ″to rebuild confidence and lay the foundations for a much needed and long awaited reconciliation with the people.″

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