Kerry warns Russia against violating Ukraine ceasefire
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US Secretary of State John Kerry met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Monday, warning Moscow it could face more economic sanctions if pro-Russian forces in eastern Ukraine failed to comply with a ceasefire.
Neither Kerry nor his Russian counterpart smiled or spoke substantively as they shook hands in front of reporters.
Speaking at a news conference, Kerry said that the ceasefire must be respected in all areas, including the town of Debaltseve, a strategic rail junction that has been the focus of fighting in recent weeks.
“If that does not happen, if there continue to be these broad swaths of non-compliance ... then there would be inevitably further consequences that would place further strain on Russia’s already troubled economy,” he said.
As a relative quiet held on Ukraine's frontlines, raising hopes that Kiev and pro-Russian separatists were moving towards implementing a fragile ceasefire, the United Nations published a report that painted a bleak picture of developments in the country.
"More than 6,000 lives have now been lost in less than a year due to the fighting in eastern Ukraine," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement released with the report – the ninth on the issue.
Crimes against humanity?
The report details how the conflict is affecting civilians, pointing to arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances committed mainly by armed groups but also in some cases by Ukrainian law enforcement agencies.
The swelling violence and dire living conditions have forced more and more people to flee, and by mid-February, at least one million people had been registered as internally displaced inside Ukraine.
"Many have been trapped in conflict zones, forced to shelter in basements, with hardly any drinking water, food, heating, electricity or basic medical supplies," Zeid said.
Speaking in Geneva for the launch of the report, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ivan Simonovic said "the deliberate targeting of civilian areas may constitute a war crime and if widespread and systematic, a crime against humanity."
Waiting for pullback of weapons
Ukraine’s military reported on Saturday that ongoing fighting in the east had injured eight soldiers. Ukrainian photographer Sergiy Nikolayev was also killed by mortar fire.
But in a more encouraging sign, Kiev security officials said Sunday no Ukrainian soldiers had been killed over the past 24 hours.
Both sides have also begun to pull back some heavy weaponry from the frontline, with rebels claiming Sunday that they would complete the pullback by the end of the weekend.
Monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe have reported weapons movements on both sides but say it is too early to confirm a full pullback.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)