Ukraine crisis-Kiev, insurgents withdraw heavy weapons

Added On February 27, 2015

The Ukrainian army on Thursday said it had started to withdraw heavy weapons from the country's east. The move is aimed at creating a buffer zone between the two warring sides, which is due to be completed in two weeks. 
Meanwhile, pro-Moscow insurgents insist they have already pulled back a majority of their artillery.
Fighting  in the region has reportedly died down over the past two days, marking a step forward for the troubled peace plan. 
Ukraine on Thursday ordered the withdrawal of 100mm cannons from the current demarcation line within 24 hours. 
The second phase of the operation will reportedly include the withdrawal of heavier weapons, including the 120mm mortars that have been a feature of the conflict. 
The move to withdraw weapons on both sides to create a buffer zone is the second point of the 12-point peace agreement, brokered by the leaders of France, Germany, Ukraine and Russia in Minsk earlier this month. 
Shelling attacks have dropped off in Eastern Ukraine in recent days, as the Ukrainian military said that it had not suffered any casualties for the second straight day on Thursday. While reports say Wednesday marked the first time in several weeks that no soldiers had been killed.
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg has hailed the downturn in violence, however has maintained pressure by calling for Moscow to pull out of Ukraine the weapons it is accused of supplying to rebel forces. 
This comes as tensions between the West and Moscow continue to run high.
On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry, said Russia and pro-Moscow rebels had failed to meet the terms of the ceasefire, accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin of having facilitated and encouraged land grabs in a bid to destabilise Ukraine. 
Kerry added that Moscow could face further sanctions from the west. 
Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called for closer ties with France during a meeting with the President of the French Senate in Moscow. 
The Russian leader called for an enhancement in ties between the two countries during a meeting with French Senate President Gerard Larcher on Thursday. 
Putin noted that trade had gone down between Russia and France in 2014 by 17.6 percent in comparison with 2013, but was optimistic that relations were developing between the two countries "despite current difficulties".
The Russia leader met with Larcher in Moscow for talks the day after the French Senate President had met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergein Lavrov on Wednesday.
Larcher thanked Putin for the solidarity he had shown with France during the January terror attacks in Paris. 
Staying in Russia... Reports say three people have been killed after Russian Security forces launched a special operation against a group of suspected militants in the Republic of Dagestan on Wednesday. 
Three suspected militants were killed by Russian security forces during a shootout at a police post in the Khasavyurt District of Dagestan on Wednesday.
Reports say the three men opened fire from inside a car when police asked them to pull over. 
In the shootout, one policeman and two suspected militants were killed. Another policeman was wounded, and the third alleged militant managed to escape. 
The Russian Republic of Dagestan is situated in Russia's turbulent North Caucasus with Chechnya and Georgia to the west.
In August 1999, an Islamic body declared an independent state in parts of Dagestan and Chechnya, and called on Muslims to take up arms against Russia in a holy war.