Ukraine crisis: Leaders urge implementation of Minsk peace deal in 2016

Ukrainian servicemen stand guard at one of the city of Mariupol's polling stations, in the Donetsk region Image copyright AFP
Image caption Fighting has continued in Ukraine despite a ceasefire agreement

The leaders of France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine have agreed that the Minsk peace deal for Ukraine must be fully implemented in 2016.

The agreement was reached in a phone call on Wednesday, with the leaders saying that their foreign ministers would assess progress in a month.

They stressed the importance of maintaining a ceasefire and of removing arms from the disputed eastern region.

The Minsk deal was signed in February 2015.

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Although a ceasefire has broadly held, sporadic clashes have continued between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces in the east.

In a statement released on Wednesday, the French government said: "Angela Merkel, Francois Hollande, Vladimir Putin and Petro Poroshenko have reaffirmed their commitment to a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and to a concerted pullout without delay of heavy weapons."

Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France - the so-called Normandy Four - also discussed preparations for local elections in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk in early 2017.

It was the first time the leaders had discussed the agreement since they held a meeting in Paris on 2 October.

The crisis in Ukraine began in November 2013 when pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych's government abandoned a deal with the European Union in favour of stronger ties with Russia, sparking anti-government protests in the capital Kiev.

Mr Yanukovych was overthrown in February 2014.

Russia then annexed the southern Crimea peninsula in March 2014 and a month later pro-Russian separatists had taken over government buildings in the predominantly Russian-speaking eastern cities of Donetsk, Luhansk and Kharkiv.

Almost 8,000 people have been killed since fighting since then.

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