Negotiators reach deal on weapons withdrawal in east Ukraine

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MINSK, Belarus (AP) — Representatives of Russia, Ukraine and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reached a long-awaited agreement late Tuesday on the withdrawal of tanks and other weapons from the frontline in eastern Ukraine.

"This is a document that opens a path to peace, a path to an end of violence and attacks," Russian negotiator Azamat Kulmukhametov said.

The deal supplements a broad agreement signed in February aimed at ending the conflict between the Western-aligned Ukrainian government and Russia-backed rebels. Many of its provisions remain unimplemented.

The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, France and Germany, who negotiated the February agreement, are meeting in Paris on Friday to try to push forward a political settlement for eastern Ukraine, where the fighting has killed more than 8,000 people since it began in April 2014.

To lay the groundwork for that meeting, their foreign ministers met in Berlin on Sept. 12 and afterward expressed hope that the agreement on withdrawing weapons could be signed within days, but the talks dragged on for two weeks.

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Negotiators reach deal on weapons withdrawal in east Ukraine
Pro-Russian separatists take part in a military competition between tank units near the town of Torez, in the Donetsk region, on September 24, 2015. Ukraine's pro-Moscow insurgents showed off their military prowess on Thursday by launching exercises involving heavy tanks that Kiev claims they had covertly received from Russia. The self-proclaimed 'tank biathlon' mirrored manoeuvres that Russia has been staging with its former Soviet allies in recent years. AFP PHOTO / ALEKSEY FILIPPOV (Photo credit should read ALEKSEY FILIPPOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Pro-Russian separatist military cadets attend a military competition between tank units near the town of Torez, in the Donetsk region, on September 24, 2015. Ukraine's pro-Moscow insurgents showed off their military prowess on Thursday by launching exercises involving heavy tanks that Kiev claims they had covertly received from Russia. The self-proclaimed 'tank biathlon' mirrored manoeuvres that Russia has been staging with its former Soviet allies in recent years. AFP PHOTO / ALEKSEY FILIPPOV (Photo credit should read ALEKSEY FILIPPOV/AFP/Getty Images)
A Ukrainian soldier of 95th airborne brigade guards a position at the frontline near Avdiivka, Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Sunday, July 19, 2015. Ukraine’s separatist rebels say they have begun pulling back military vehicles armed with small-caliber weapons from most of the front line in the war with Ukrainian forces. (AP Photo/Evgeniy Maloletka)
Members of the Right Sector group march down the street during a rally in the center Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. The radical Right Sector group was one of the most militant factions in the massive protests in Ukraine's capital that prompted pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country in February 2014. Since war broke out in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russia separatists several months later, the Right Sector has fought on the government side. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Members of the Right Sector group rest prior their rally in the center Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, July 21, 2015. The radical Right Sector group was one of the most militant factions in the massive protests in Ukraine's capital that prompted pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych to flee the country in February 2014. Since war broke out in eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russia separatists several months later, the Right Sector has fought on the government side. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Activists and supporters of far-right Ukrainian party Right Sector participate in a rally on Independence Square in Kiev on July 21, 2015 after the party's extraordinary congress. Several thousand protesters gathered to support the party's decision to start collecting signatures for a referendum calling for for the resignation of President Petro Poroshenko and his government. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Activists and supporters of far-right Ukrainian party Right Sector participate in a rally on Independence Square in Kiev on July 21, 2015 after the party's extraordinary congress. Several thousand protesters gathered to support the party's decision to start collecting signatures for a referendum calling for for the resignation of President Petro Poroshenko and his government. AFP PHOTO/ SERGEI SUPINSKY (Photo credit should read SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images)
Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighters take a nap in their room at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of Eastern Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighter, aged 70, poses for a pictures while he makes exercizes at their headquarter in a village near Pokrovskoe on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighters get ready at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe, eastern Ukraine on June 3, 2015 before going to the frontline in Eastern Ukraine. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighters train at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe, eastern Ukraine on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighters take a rest at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe, eastern Ukraine on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
A Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighter trains at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe, eastern Ukraine on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighters train at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe, eastern Ukraine on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Praviy Sektor (Right Sector) fighters train at their headquarter in a small village near Pokrovskoe, eastern Ukraine on June 3, 2015. Right Sector is a paramilitary group that fights with the governmental army against separatists for the control of the East of Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / FABIO BUCCIARELLI (Photo credit should read FABIO BUCCIARELLI/AFP/Getty Images)
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The cease-fire declared as part of the February agreement was regularly violated by both sides until they declared a new truce on Sept. 1, which has largely held.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Tuesday told The Associated Press the latter is a positive sign which proves a "possibility of progress" on other provisions of international agreements.

The NATO leader, who spoke at the sidelines of the annual U.N. General Assembly in New York, singled out Russia's support for separatists in the east of Ukraine as the "main challenge" to putting an end to the conflict. He also expressed concern that separatists' plans to hold local elections in defiance of the Ukrainian government might derail the full implementation of the peace accord.

The deal reached Tuesday in Minsk, Belarus, by the so-called Contact Group calls for tanks, artillery and also mortars up to 120 mm to be pulled back at least 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the frontline, OSCE negotiator Martin Sajdik said.

He said the withdrawal will begin after the deal is signed by rebel leaders and will take 39 days to complete. Rebel representatives at the talks said their leaders should sign it on Wednesday.

The OSCE will monitor the withdrawal of the weapons, Sajdik said.

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Alina Heineke in New York contributed to this report.

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