OSCE says the latest cease-fire in Ukraine has 'very significantly' lowered military exchanges

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UNITED NATIONS — The head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said Monday that the latest cease-fire in Ukraine has "very significantly" lowered the level of military exchanges between government and separatist forces but violations are still taking place and must end.

Lamberto Zannier told a group of reporters that OSCE monitors in Ukraine reported a number of violations in the south and some limited incidents around the town of Debaltseve, which was captured last week by Russian-backed rebel forces in violation of the cease-fire, and around the Donetsk airport, which the separatists seized in January.

Under a peace agreement reached Feb. 12 in Minsk after all-night talks between the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France, a cease-fire was supposed to begin Feb. 15 followed by a withdrawal of heavy weapons by both sides.

Foreign ministers of the four countries are scheduled to meet in Paris on Tuesday to discuss the latest situation in eastern Ukraine. The chairman of the OSCE — Serbia — is also scheduled to deliver the organization's annual report to the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.

Zannier said the Minsk agreement is "the best chance ... to de-escalate and bring this conflict to an end."

"In general the cease-fire has achieved the goal of lowering very significantly the level of military exchange along the line of contact," he said. "Still there is work to be done and in some areas there are violations, and we are recording them."

Zannier said it is up to the political leaders to focus on ending the violations so the cease-fire can take effect throughout the east, all prisoners can be released, and heavy weapons can be pulled back 25 to 70 kilometers (16 to 44 miles) to create a buffer zone.

He added that the OSCE needs information from both sides to monitor the withdrawal of all weapons that are 100mm caliber or more.

Zannier said the OSCE is hoping to have 350 monitors in eastern Ukraine "in the next couple of weeks" as well as its monitors elsewhere in the country.

The OSCE is also considering expanding the mission by an additional 100 to 150 monitors and upgrading its equipment to include more unmanned drones, new mobile cameras and possible satellite imagery and radar systems so it can better observe events on the ground, he said.

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