Ukrainian rebels accused of executing captives

Hundreds of Ukrainian troops have been captured since fighting broke out. Picture: AP

Hundreds of Ukrainian troops have been captured since fighting broke out. Picture: AP

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Human rights group ­Amnesty International has said it has found evidence of “execution-style killings” of captured Ukrainian troops by Moscow-backed rebels.

The organisation said prisoners were shot dead on at least four occasions, with bullet wounds to the head and upper body suggesting they were victims of summary executions.

Amnesty said it has video showing the prisoners before being interrogated and, apparently, executed and photographs of the dead soldiers.

“The new evidence of these summary killings confirms what we have suspected for a long time. The question now is: what are the separatist leaders going to do about it?” said Denis Krivosheev, Europe and Central Asia deputy director at Amnesty.

Hundreds of Ukrainian troops have been captured by Moscow-backed rebels since fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine last April, and while many have been released unharmed others have not.

In one case highlighted by the human rights group, video footage posted on YouTube showed Ihor Branovytsky, a Ukrainian soldier captured near Donetsk airport, alive although showing signs of being hit around the face.

But witnesses later claim to have seen a separatist commander shoot Branovytsky dead at point-blank range. His body was returned to his family earlier this month. “Summary killings are a war crime, plain and simple. The leaders of the self-styled ‘Donetsk People’s Republic’ in eastern Ukraine must send their members a clear message: those who fight with them or on their behalf must respect the laws of war,” said Mr Krivosheev.

“They must remove from their ranks anyone suspected of ordering or committing serious violations of international law and human rights abuses, and fully co-operate with any independent investigation.”

Eduard Basurin, a rebel spokesman, denied the execution allegations.

The Amnesty statement comes just days after the Kyiv Post, a Ukrainian English-­language newspaper, ran an interview with Arseniy Pavlov, the commander of the “Sparta Battalion,” a pro-Moscow rebel group. During the phone interview Pavlov claimed to have “shot dead” 15 Ukrainian soldiers, one of whom may have been Branovytsky.

Amnesty said the “chilling confession from a separatist fighter” highlighted the need for an investigation and action to “tackle the escalating human rights and humanitarian crisis” in eastern Ukraine.

In February Amnesty said rebel groups had a “history of torturing or otherwise ill-treating captured pro-Kiev fighters,” and called on all sides to abide to the Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.

Experts have warned that the bitterness of the war, the use of heavy weapons and intense fighting in urban areas with a high civilian population has increased the chances of human rights abuses and war crimes.

A ceasefire agreement signed in February has brought a lull to the eastern Ukraine war that has claimed some 6,000 lives. But with the truce lacking any political weight there are fears that it is only a matter of time before it unravels and battle resumes.

German, French, Ukrainian and Russian leaders will meet on Monday to discuss the ceasefire and ensure it continues. Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister, said on Thursday the ceasefire had made “some progress” despite violations.

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