U.N. says pro-Russia rebels in Ukraine murder, kidnap and torture

UNITED NATIONS Tue Aug 26, 2014 1:47pm EDT

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UNITED NATIONS Aug 26 (Reuters) - Pro-Russian rebels in Ukraine are guilty of a wide array of human rights abuses, including murder, abductions and torture, and are receiving a "steady supply" of sophisticated weapons and ammunition, according to a U.N. report obtained by Reuters.

The report by the 34-member U.N. monitoring mission, prepared by the U.N. human rights office in Geneva, also cited reports of human rights violations by Ukraine's military forces and special battalions run by the country's Interior Ministry.

The report said the death toll has risen to at least 2,200 since the fighting began in mid-April, with an average of at least 36 people killed daily. That is up from at least 2,086 on Aug. 10 and 1,129 on July 26.

"Armed groups continue to commit killings, abductions, physical and psychological torture, ill treatment, executions, murder and other serious human rights abuses," the report said, adding that violations were "disproportionately targeting civilians."

At least 468 people are believed to be held captive by rebels, according to the report, which covers the period from July 16 to Aug. 17.

"The Ukraine military has reported shelling from (Russian) territory ... and of the illegal use of landmines in Ukraine territory," the monitors said.

On the topic of the July 17 crash of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, the report said sporadic fighting has made it impossible for international investigators to assess the site.

The reported abuses by the Ukrainian military and special Interior Ministry battalions include "arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and torture," the report said.

The U.N. missions of Russia and Ukraine did not have an immediate reaction to the report.

The conflict in Ukraine also shows no signs of abating.

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged his Ukrainian counterpart on Tuesday not to escalate an offensive against the rebels while Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko replied by demanding a halt to arms shipments from Russia to the separatists.

The U.N. monitors said the humanitarian situation has worsened as the Ukrainian military has tightened its blockade of rebel strongholds in Luhansk, Donetsk and Horlivka.

They said "government forces are obliged to ensure the unimpeded passage of humanitarian relief and goods essential to the survival of the population."

The rebels "are now professionally equipped and appear to benefit from a steady supply of sophisticated weapons and ammunition, enabling them to shoot down Ukrainian military aircraft such as helicopters, fighter jets and transport planes."

Russia denies Kiev's allegations that it is sending troops and armor to Ukraine. The U.N. report did not say who was sending arms to the rebels.

Fighting in eastern Ukraine broke out in April, a month after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea Peninsula in response to the toppling of a pro-Moscow president in Kiev.

The monitors said that in Crimea, "harassment and discrimination continued against Ukrainian nationals, Crimean Tatar and other minorities."

"No serious attempts have been made to investigate allegations of human rights abuses committed by the so-called Crimean self-defense forces following the March 'referendum,'" it said. (Reporting by Louis Charbonneau, editing by G Crosse)

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