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Ukraine to begin pulling back heavy weapons in east

As a part of the recent cease-fire agreement, the Ukrainian military will start by pulling back field guns.

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A priest bows as Russia-backed separatist fighters drive in a self-propelled 152 mm artillery piece, part of a unit moved away from the front lines, in Yelenovka, near Donetsk, Ukraine, Thursday, Feb. 26, 2015.

Vadim Ghirda/AP

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Ukraine's military said it would start pulling back its heavy weapons Thursday from the front line with Russian-backed separatists as required under a cease-fire agreement.

The Defense Ministry said in a statement that it reserved the right to revise its withdrawal plans in the event of an attack by rebel forces, however. It said the first weapons to be pulled back would be 100-mm caliber field guns.

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Fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed nearly 5,800 people since April. A peace deal agreed upon earlier this month by the leaders of Russia and Ukraine, brokered by France and Germany, aims to cement a cease-fire and begin a pullback of heavy weapons.

Implementation of that deal is being overseen by an almost 600 person-strong team from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Before the Ukraine announcement, Michael Bociurkiw, a spokesman for the OSCE monitoring mission, complained earlier that the warring sides had made little progress in laying the grounds for weapons withdrawal. That requires both sides to inventory their weapons and provide details about how and where they are to be relocated, he said.

"It's not enough to be invited to follow the removal process part of the way. It has to be complete," he said. "It's not a shopping list, you cannot pick and choose."

Russia denies Ukraine's charges that it arms and supports the rebels, a denial rejected by Western nations and NATO, who point to satellite pictures of Russian military equipment in eastern Ukraine.