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HRW: Ukrainian forces used cluster ammunition

Tue, 21.10.2014 15:45



KYIV/Ukraine in Arabic/ Ukrainian government forces used cluster munitions in populated areas in Donetsk city in early October 2014, Human Rights Watch said today. The use of cluster munitions in populated areas violates the laws of war due to the indiscriminate nature of the weapon and may amount to war crimes.

Sites where rockets fell in the city on Oct. 2 and Oct. 5 showed clear signs that cluster munitions had been fired from the direction of army-held territory, where misfired artillery rockets still containing cluster bomblets were found by villagers in farm fields.

The two attacks wounded at least six people and killed a Swiss employee of the International Red Cross based in Donetsk.

If confirmed, the use of cluster bombs by the pro-Western government could complicate efforts to reunite the country, as residents of the east have grown increasingly bitter over the Ukrainian Army’s tactics to oust pro-Russian rebels.

Further, in a report released late Monday, Human Rights Watch says the rebels have most likely used cluster weapons in the conflict as well, a detail that The New York Times could not independently verify.

The army’s use of cluster munitions, which shower small bomblets around a large area, could also add credibility to Moscow’s version of the conflict, which is that the Ukrainian national government is engaged in a punitive war against its own citizens. The two October strikes occurred nearly a month after President Petro O. Poroshenko of Ukraine signed a cease-fire agreement with rebel representatives.

“It’s pretty clear that cluster munitions are being used indiscriminately in populated areas, particularly in attacks in early October in Donetsk city,” said Mark Hiznay, senior arms researcher at Human Rights Watch, in emailed comments after the report was completed. “The military logic behind these attacks is not apparent, and these attacks should stop, because they put too many civilians at risk.”

Press officers for the Ukrainian military denied that their troops had used cluster weapons during the conflict and said that the rocket strikes against Donetsk in early October should be investigated once it was safe to do so. They also said that rebels in the area had access to powerful rocket systems from Russia that could fire cluster munitions.

However, munition fragments found in and around Donetsk and interviews with witnesses indicate that the cluster munitions that struck Oct. 2 and Oct. 5 were most likely fired by Ukrainian troops stationed southwest of the city, according to Human Rights Watch and a review by The Times. Witnesses there reported seeing rocket launches from those troops’ positions toward the city at times that coincide with the strikes.

Human Rights Watch says in its report that cluster weapons have been used against population centers in eastern Ukraine at least 12 times, including the strikes on Donetsk, during the conflict, and possibly many more. The report said that both sides were probably culpable, in attacks that “may amount to war crimes” in a grinding conflict that has claimed at least 3,700 lives, including those of many civilians.

The report, which included incidents uncovered by The Times, says there is “particularly strong evidence” that Ukrainian government troops carried out the two October attacks against Donetsk.

An August cluster-munitions attack on the village of Starobesheve, which was in Ukrainian Army hands, was probably carried out either by pro-Russian rebels or by Russian troops, the report says.

Beginning in October, a series of strikes against Donetsk using certain cluster weapons fired from Uragan rockets came from the southwest of the city. The timing of at least two rocket launches from the same location corresponded to cluster munition strikes that hit Donetsk from a southwesterly trajectory, according to Human Rights Watch and The Times.

Shelling of cities has been common in the conflict, and the cease-fire agreement has not ended the violence. A chemical plant on the outskirts of Donetsk was struck Monday, and the resulting shock wave shattered windows for miles around.

Kiev rejected claims Ukrainian forces used cluster ammunition. The Ukrainian military has not used weapons banned by international agreements in the military operation in eastern Ukraine, the National Security and Defense Council said.

"The Ukrainian military has not used internationally banned weapons, including cluster ammunition," National Security and Defense Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko said at a press briefing on Tuesday.

He said "provocative information" could have been provided to international observers by the militia. Therefore representatives of international organizations should provide more details in reports backed by evidence, he added.

"Concerning claims that residential areas were targeted in cluster bomb attacks, I am authorized to state that the Ukrainian military has not been using weapons against residential districts," Lysenko said.

nytimes.com

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