Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty Images

Nearly 1,000 killed in restive east Ukraine since cease-fire, UN says

Truce repeatedly violated since both sides; number of people displaced by conflict rises steeply

Nearly 1,000 people have been killed in fighting between government forces and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since a truce in the conflict was brokered in September, United Nations human rights investigators said Thursday.

According toa UN report, the seven-month old civil war has so far claimed 4,317 lives, with 275 killed since Oct. 18. The number of internally displaced people has also sharply increased from 275,489 on Sept. 18 to 466,829 on Nov. 18.

The continued killing comes despiet a truce being signed between the two sides on Sept. 5.

"Since the ceasefire began, from 6 Sept. up to 18 Nov., 957 fatalities were recorded — 38 men and 119 women, although some may have been killed prior to the ceasefire, with the data only recorded later," the UN reported.

The seemingly intractable conflict has drawn Washington and Moscow deeper into the diplomatic fray and threatened to pull the two powers closer to the war’s frontlines.

Russia on Thursday reacted sharply to a U.S. official's comment that Washington should consider supplying weapons to Ukraine.

"We repeatedly heard confirmations from the [U.S.] administration that only non-lethal weapons would be delivered to Ukraine. If there is a change in this policy, then this is a highly destabilizing factor that could seriously influence the balance of power in the region," said Alexander Lukashevich, spokesman for the Russian Foreign Ministry.

U.S. deputy national security adviser Tony Blinken told a U.S. Senate committee on Wednesday that strengthening Ukraine's forces was "something we should be looking at."

The Obama administration has resisted supplying arms to Ukraine, although there is broad support in Congress for doing so. Vice President Joe Biden is due to arrive in Ukraine for a meeting with Kiev officials on Thursday evening.

The report released by the U.N. investigators on Thursday cited allegations of serious human rights abuses — including torture, detention, executions, forced labor and sexual violence that "are of a systematic nature and may amount to crimes against humanity." The report did not assign blame for the alleged crimes.

The report said the standoff between the two sides was "becoming increasingly entrenched, with the total breakdown of law and order and the emergence of parallel governance systems" in Donetsk, the largest city under separatist control, and in the rebel-controlled section of the Luhansk region.

The report also warned that treatment for almost 60,000 HIV-positive patients and 11,600 multi-drug resistant tuberculosis patients could be disrupted by a lack of medicine, which "may lead to the uncontrolled spread of epidemics."

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Raad al-Hussein issued a statement on Thursday calling for all sides to adhere to the September cease-fire.

"Respect for the cease-fire has been sporadic at best, with continued outbreaks of fighting and shelling resulting in an average of 13 people a day being killed during the first eight weeks of the cease-fire," Hussein said.

"All parties need to make a far more wholehearted effort to resolve this protracted crisis peacefully and in line with international human rights laws and standards."

Wire services

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