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Ukraine foes defer troop pullback, delaying key peace summit

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Kiev (AFP)

Ukrainian soldiers and Moscow-backed separatists deferred the last phase of a troop pullback in war-torn eastern Ukraine at the 11th hour on Monday, delaying a high-stakes summit with Russia.

The long-awaited move is a precondition for the first face-to-face talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky.

The summit will be mediated by French President Emmanuel Macron and Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Last week, the enemies completed a long-stalled withdrawal of forces in Zolote in the Lugansk region.

They had been scheduled to begin a similar pullback in the village of Petrivske in the Donetsk region on Monday. But Kiev said it could not proceed due to ceasefire violations by Kremlin-backed separatists and postponed the withdrawal till Friday.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko told reporters in Kiev that a total ceasefire must be observed for a seven-day period before the troop withdrawal can begin.

Ukrainian military spokesman Andriy Ageev, told AFP that the Friday deadline would be respected "unless, of course, there are new shots fired."

Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) recorded ceasefire violations near Petrivske on October 30.

Donetsk People's Republic (DPR) official Natalya Nikonorova meanwhile accused Kiev of sabotaging the agreements.

Ukraine is playing "absolutely meaningless and destructive games", insisting on "seven days of silence", Nikonorova said in a statement published by the separatists' news agency.

Since coming to power in May, comedian-turned-president Zelensky has sought to revive a peace process to end a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine that has claimed some 13,000 lives since 2014.

But those efforts have stalled as Zelensky's peace plan, including the troop pullback, have been strongly criticised in Kiev, especially by war veterans and nationalists.

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