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UN: More Than 950 Killed Despite Ukraine Truce

A pro-Russian militant during fighting in August in the eastern Ukrainian town of Ilovaisk.
A pro-Russian militant during fighting in August in the eastern Ukrainian town of Ilovaisk.

The United Nations says fighting in eastern Ukraine has killed an average of 13 people a day since a cease-fire between government forces and pro-Russian rebels was signed on September 5.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein announced the figure on November 20.

The UN rights agency said at least 4,317 people have been killed and 9,921 wounded since April in the conflict, which has brought ties between Russia and the West to post-Cold War lows.

It said 957 of the deaths were recorded between September 5 and November 18, a toll that reflects daily violations of the cease-fire deal signed in Minsk, including fighting over the airport outside the rebel-held city of Donetsk and the government-controlled Azov Sea coastal city of Mariupol.

The number of people registered as displaced within Ukraine soared from 275,489 in mid-September to 466,829 on November 19, the UN rights agency said.

The cease-fire deal, which was signed by representatives of Russia, Ukraine, and the rebels who have seized large parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, also set out steps aimed to end the conflict.

A senior Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe official said that the prospects for peace in eastern Ukraine were "bleak" but that there is no alternative to the Minsk deal.

"Whatever [their] shortcomings may be and wherever they may need to be supplemented, the [Minsk] documents are the door on the road to peace in eastern Ukraine, and they will continue to be so," Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini told a meeting of the 57-member OSCE in Vienna.

Tagliavini is OSCE envoy to the Trilateral Contact Group, which includes senior representatives from Ukraine and Russia.

"I am unable to accept any remarks that the cease-fire arrangements of Minsk have fallen apart. Yes, it has been broken many times but it is the only agreement in place which has any restraining power on the use of force," she said.

Citing reports from NATO, OSCE observers, and journalists of a new military buildup in the conflict zone, Tagliavini said that "the outlook is still bleak" and that further escalation could have severe consequences for the region and beyond.

She said the situation had not improved since a G20 summit in Australia on November 15-16 during which Western leaders pressed Russian President Vladimir Putin over what NATO says is direct Russian military support for the separatists.

Russia denies involvement and has pressed in recent days for direct talks between Ukraine's govenment and the separatists, who cemented control over the land they hold in November 2 elections denouced by Kyiv, the United States, and the European Union as illegal.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk bluntly rejected those calls on November 19, saying his government would not talk to what he called Moscow's "mercenaries" and accused Russia of "playing games" aimed at legitimizing "terrorists."

U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden is to begin a two-day visit to Kyiv late on November 20.

With reporting by AP and Reuters

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