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Civilian casualties highest in a year in Ukraine: U.N. rights boss

GENEVA (Reuters) - Civilian casualties from shelling, mines and booby traps in eastern Ukraine are at their highest in a year as government forces and pro-Moscow separatists constantly violate a ceasefire, the U.N. rights boss said on Wednesday.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said at least 69 civilians had been killed or wounded in June, double the figure for the previous month, with the figure at 73 in July.

Casualties in eastern Ukraine casualties were the highest since August 2015, Zeid said in a statement.

“Civilians are once again having to flee to improvised bomb shelters in their basements, sometimes overnight, with increasing frequency – the price of the ceasefire violations is too high for the women, men and children in eastern Ukraine,” he said.

Forces must disengage and implement a full and sustainable ceasefire, in line with the Minsk agreement of February 2015, he said.

“The many casualties we have documented in recent weeks suggest that neither Ukrainian forces nor the armed groups are taking the necessary precautions to protect civilians,” he said.

Shelling was responsible for more than half the recorded casualties in June and July, with the rest due to mines, explosive remnants of war, booby traps and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

“U.N. human rights teams on both sides of the contact line have documented reports of civilian homes looted, schools and hospitals shelled or used by Ukrainian forces and armed groups,” Zeid said.

The 12-point Minsk peace deal was brokered by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France in February 2015. The aim was to end a conflict that the U.N. rights office said on Wednesday had killed over 9,550 people, including soldiers, civilians and members of armed groups, since April 2014.

Conditions including a complete cessation of fighting, pull-back of heavy weapons from the front line, and release of prisoners of war have not yet been fulfilled, raising concerns the ceasefire agreement could collapse.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Richard Balmforth