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UN on Ukraine: “Any further escalation will prove catastrophic”

February 3, 2015

Summary: As separatists consider large scale mobilisation and US ponder arming Ukraine, the UN warns of possible Ukrainian “catastrophe”.

_80750151_ukraine_rebel_forces_debaltseve_624_v3There seems to be nothing good coming out of the Ukraine at present, with casualties now well in advance of 5,000.  Talks are being abandoned, spurned and generally ignored.  Some observations from the UN as a result of the latest surge of fighting in the central (Debaltseve) and southern (Mariupol) contested areas of eastern Ukraine are bleak.  Debaltseve – with a population of around 26,000 in 2013, appears to be virtually cut off, raising prospects of more humanitarian trauma.  The UN highlights the rise in civilian casualties recently:

GENEVA (3 February 2015) – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Tuesday urged all sides to halt the dangerous escalation in the fighting in eastern Ukraine. He called on States and all those with influence in the region to take measures to ensure full compliance with the Minsk accords, which have a direct bearing on the human rights situation in the east of the country.

“Bus stops and public transport, marketplaces, schools and kindergartens, hospitals and residential areas have become battlegrounds in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions of Ukraine – in clear breach of international humanitarian law which governs the conduct of armed conflicts,” High Commissioner Zeid said.

“The death toll now exceeds 5,358 people, and another 12,235 have been wounded since mid-April last year. In just the three weeks up to February 1, at least 224 civilians have been killed and 545 wounded. Any further escalation will prove catastrophic for the 5.2 million people living in the midst of conflict in eastern Ukraine.”

In particular, there has been a high civilian death toll from the indiscriminate shelling of residential areas in both Government-controlled territory, such as the towns of Avdiivka, Debaltseve, Popasna and Shchastia and the settlement of Stanytsia Luhanska, as well as the cities of Donetsk and Horlivka controlled by the armed groups. In the single most deadly incident involving civilians, at least 31 people were killed and 112 wounded in Mariupol, following two attacks by multiple launch rocket systems.

“The protection of civilians by all parties to the conflict must be of the utmost priority,” Zeid said. “All violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law must be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators must be promptly brought to justice.”

The High Commissioner also expressed concern about the implications of the harsh winter months on civilians in conflict-affected areas, with shortages of food and water and power cuts. The plight of these civilians has been compounded by Government decisions that have resulted in further restrictions on the freedom of movement and socio-economic isolation. The prolongation of the conflict would make the humanitarian situation untenable for millions of people, Zeid stressed.

“The public declarations by representatives of the armed groups, rejecting the ceasefire agreement and vowing to scale up the offensive are extremely dangerous and deeply worrying,” Zeid said. “They add to the terrifying predicament of the civilians who are trapped in the areas, and the total breakdown of law and order. I urge all States with influence to work together to ensure that parties to the conflict immediately cease hostilities and abide by earlier ceasefire decisions.”

UKRAINE-RUSSIA-CRISISThe BBC have this report:

BBC, 3 Feb 2015: Up to 16 civilians have been killed and dozens more injured in the space of 24 hours in fighting in eastern Ukraine, as the UN warns that the fresh surge in violence is proving “catastrophic”.  Government and rebel representatives reported the latest deaths in locations across the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.  Ukraine’s army also said five soldiers had died fighting pro-Russian rebels near the strategic town of Debaltseve.  Civilian casualties have risen sharply in recent weeks amid a rebel offensive.

The latest deaths were in the city of Donetsk, Debaltseve and several villages under government control in the Luhansk region. The exact numbers could not be independently confirmed.

Meanwhile, the separatist rebels talk of a mobilisation of 100,000 troops (although where from is unclear) and there appears to be discussion in US government circles on providing weapons to the Ukrainian army:

Daily Telegraph, 2 Feb 2015: The spectre of a deepening proxy war in Ukraine involving both Russia and the United States has raised its head after reports that the White House is considering supplying weapons to Kiev.

Washington has so far refused to supply weapons to the pro-Western Ukrainian government but reports suggest that a growing number of President Barack Obama’s advisors are now warming to the idea.

According to the New York Times General Philip Breedlove, Nato’s military commander, supports providing arms and equipment to Ukraine’s hard-pressed forces, which are struggling to quell an uprising led by Russian-backed separatists.

Other senior officials including John Kerry, the US secretary of state, are also said to be open shifting American policy and beginning to send weapons to Kiev.

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