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UN Sees Threat of Protracted War in East Ukraine Conflict

A member of the self-proclaimed Luhansk People's Republic (LNR) forces guides a tank to park after withdrawing it further from the frontline outside Luhansk, Ukraine, Oct. 3, 2015.

A new report from the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva said the situation in eastern Ukraine remains volatile two years into the war between Russian-backed armed separatists and the government.

The latest U.N. figures show nearly 9,400 people have been killed and more than 21,500 others wounded since the conflict began in mid-April 2014.

U.N. monitors said active fighting has decreased; but, they warn, the Minsk peace agreement is fragile and the situation could develop into a protracted conflict or escalate again.

They said both scenarios would have dire consequences for the civilian population and be harmful to human rights for many years.

U.N. Human Rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told VOA there is a worrying increase in heavy weaponry near the contact line, which borders the Donetsk region in eastern Ukraine and the government-controlled area.

“There have been strongly credible reports of servicemen from across the border from Russia coming into and out of Ukrainian territory," she said. "And, the same goes for heavy weaponry as well. There have been very credible reports.”

The report accuses the armed rulers of eastern Ukraine of widespread human rights violations and abuses. It says 2.7 million civilians living under their control have no freedom of expression, assembly and association.

Enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and ill-treatment are deeply entrenched practices, according to the report. Shamdasani said the U.N. has documented several cases of conflict-related sexual violence.

“The majority of the allegations suggest that the threats of rape and other forms of sexual violence are used as a method of torture and ill-treatment during detention — during the arbitrary or illegal detention — both toward men and toward women," she said. "And the threats of sexual violence toward female relatives are often used to compel male detainees to confess or to relinquish their property.”

U.N. investigators found that impunity in eastern Ukraine continues to be a key pattern of the conflict. They said law and order in the territories controlled by the armed groups has collapsed and illegal parallel structures have developed.