OSCE ‘welcomes’ artillery withdrawal by both sides in E. Ukraine

The OSCE welcomes the withdrawal of heavy artillery from the demarcation line in eastern Ukraine by both sides of the conflict, the deputy chief monitor of the OSCE mission told RT, adding that the organization needs to know where the weapons are heading.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) “welcomed that both sides are now indicating that they are taking steps to comply with these responsibilities,” Alexander Hug told RT after news emerged that Kiev troops had begun their withdrawal.

Meanwhile, the rebels have moved 90 percent of heavy weaponry from the demarcation line, according to a statement by their leader, Aleksandr Zakharchenko, on Thursday.

READ MORE: Ukraine military has begun heavy weapons withdrawal – military spokesman

Hug added that the OSCE needs to know the location, routes, and storage spaces of the heavy artillery before it can officially confirm anything.

“The OSCE requires…not only the starting point where the hardware is located; it also requires the routes and most importantly the storage places the hardware will go to in the end,” Hug said. “We are getting closer to receiving this sensitive information...we will not make it public. But, we will be able to say whether or not weapons have been withdrawn.”

While commenting on the additional demands posed by the OSCE, Hug stated: “We are not putting up demands, the demands are clear. What we are tasked by the Minsk arrangement and by our mandate is to go out and monitor what the parties do.”

Yet, when asked about the OSCE’s verification delays, Hug argued that “monitors have always been in the area” but “monitoring is different from verifying actual withdrawal.”

The withdrawal of heavy weaponry is a mandatory step set out by the Minsk ceasefire agreements signed earlier this month. Under the deal, both sides must pull their heavy weapons back from the demarcation line to form a buffer zone of 50 to 140km, depending on the type of weapon. The process is expected to be complete by March 1.

However, the withdrawal of heavy artillery is not enough for the OSCE. Hug reminded that the organization wants to see all the points of the Minsk agreements fulfilled. “Once [both sides] comply with all 11 points that the Minsk arrangements lay out, we will be able to attest to that fact.”

Hug also stressed that the OSCE is the only organization that has been “tasked” with verification of the withdrawal. “It is not up to the sides to declare, it is not up to the media to assume,” he said, adding that once everything is carefully checked, the OSCE “will be able to state so publicly.”