(Bloomberg) -- Ukraine began the last of three troop withdrawals in its eastern conflict zone, a move that should help pave the way for a peace summit with the leaders of Russia, Germany and France.
The pullback started Saturday shortly after noon Kyiv time, following a seven-day cease-fire, military spokesman Andriy Aheyev said by phone. The withdrawal is expected to last for three days followed by mine clearance, he said. Russian-backed separatists also began to withdraw their forces near the village of Petrivske, the official RIA Novosti news agency reported. The area was the last of three pilot zones chosen to begin the pullback.
The conflict that erupted after Russia annexed Crimea from its former ally in 2014 and backed the separatists in the Donbas has killed more than 13,000 people. While fighting has died down from its peak, the war harms Ukraine’s goal of integrating with the West and economic recovery. Russia, meanwhile, is looking for relief from European Union sanctions imposed to punish it for its role in the violence.
Last month saw a breakthrough in peace efforts as President Volodymyr Zelenskiy agreed on a schedule under which elections will be held in the breakaway region, while a new law will be passed granting it special status. But nationalists in Kyiv accuse him of surrendering and thousands of people protested last month in the Ukrainian capital after the previous troop withdrawal.
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