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Ukraine signs ceasefire deal with rebels

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Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels have signed an agreement on a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine starting at 6pm (15:00 GMT) on Friday, separatists and Kiev officials have said.

Ukraine’s President Petro Poroshenko confirmed that envoys at talks in the Belarusian capital had signed the agreement on Friday.

“I am ordering the head of the general staff of the armed forces of Ukraine to halt fire starting at 6pm,” Poroshenko said in a statement published on his official website.

Delegates were meeting in Minsk to discuss a peace plan to end almost five months of fighting that has killed an estimated 2,600 people in the east of the country.

The talks also included representatives of Russia and the OSCE security watchdog. The separatists are represented by leaders from the self-proclaimed Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic, including rebel Prime Minister Alexander Zakharchenko.

The negotiations follow talks between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Poroshenko in Minsk last week.

Russia denies being actively involved in the war, but Ukraine and the Western NATO alliance say that regular Russian troops and tanks are fighting on the rebels’ side.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called for the United States and Europe to act as guarantors to the ceasefire.

“It must be supported by the United States and the EU. We will not manage with Russia on our own… we need guarantees,” Yatsenyuk told a cabinet meeting moments before rebels announced that a truce deal had been agreed.

Combat continued on the outskirts of the strategic Ukrainian port city of Mariupol on Friday, ahead of the truce announcement.

Mariupol became a major focus of concern for Ukraine after the rebels broke out of their main strongholds further north in late August.

The new offensive has raised concerns the rebels are aiming to seize Mariupol, a major port of about 500,000 people, and create a land corridor between Russia and Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that Russia annexed in March. Al Jazeera

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