Ukrainian forces pull out of eastern Debaltseve town

- Government troops are withdrawing from a key railway hub, leaving the town in rebel hands.

KIEV, Ukraine (AA) - Ukrainian forces were pulling out of the eastern Ukrainian town of Debaltseve on Wednesday, Ukrainian member of parliament Semen Semenchenko said.

Semenchenko, who also heads a pro-government volunteer battalion, told the press that the withdrawal was taking place in a "planned and organized way."

Pro-Russian separatist rebels also claimed to have taken the town, which is a key railway hub and essential to the supply of coal in Ukraine.

"Eighty percent of Debaltseve is already ours," Eduard Basurin, a rebel leader, said in a statement. "A clean-up of the town is underway."

Negotiations were ongoing for 5,000 Ukrainian troops to surrender, Basurin claimed, and said that "hundreds" of government troops had been captured. Kiev issued a statement denying that the number of captives was that high, but admitted that troops were surrendering.

Despite the agreement for a cease-fire signed on Feb. 12 in Belarus' capital Minsk, and which went into effect on Feb. 15, fighting has raged in Debaltseve without cease. Rebel leaders claimed the town was "our territory," and so was not included in the cease-fire. The Ukrainian government denied this claim, but fought back against rebel attacks with the 8,000 troops who held the town.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday suggested to the government in Kiev that it should let its soldiers surrender to pro-Russian rebels.

"I hope that the responsible figures in the Ukrainian leadership will not hinder soldiers in the Ukrainian army from putting down their weapons," Putin said.

The United Nations Security Council on Tuesday called on all parties in eastern Ukraine to stop fighting and implement the cease-fire accord.

Russia drafted a resolution, adopted unanimously by the 15-member council.

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