A human rights group has reported the use of cluster bombs by the Ukrainian military during its fight against separatist rebels in the east of the country. Kyiv has denied implementing the weapons, which are illegal.
According to the results of an investigation conducted by the New-York based organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW), cluster munitions have been used during the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
"The evidence points to Ukrainian government forces' responsibility for several cluster munition attacks," HRW said in its analysis of the week-long probe, which was published on Tuesday.
Field investigators gathered evidence from 12 documented incidents in and around Donetsk, including remnants of cluster bombs near the impact sites. They also identified crater and fragmentation patterns that pointed to the use of the illegal munitions.
At least six people, including a Swiss aid worker, were killed by cluster bombs within the last month.
"It is shocking to see a weapon that most countries have banned used so extensively in eastern Ukraine," said Mark Hiznay, senior arms researcher at HRW.
"Ukrainian authorities should make an immediate commitment not to use cluster munitions and join the treaty to ban them."
Kyiv denies allegations
The Ukrainian military refuted the claims made by the human rights group.
"Ukrainian armed forces have not used weapons that are banned by international treaties," National Security and Defense Council spokesman Andriy Lysenko told reporters in Kyiv on Tuesday.
Cluster bombs contain dozens to several hundreds of submunitions and are launched either from the ground or dropped from the air. Once detonated, they scatter the smaller bomblets over a wide area. They were banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions in 2008 for their inaccurate targeting and indiscriminate killing of both civilians and combatants.
Ukraine has not signed the convention, which went into effect in 2010.
The HRW report suggested that separatist fighters might also have used the illegal weapons, but said the investigation was "inconclusive." The separatists have not yet commented on the claim.
Tuesday's allegations come a day after human rights group Amnesty International accused both sides in the Ukrainian civil war of committing war crimes.
Early in September, both sides agreed to a ceasefire and a demilitarized zone for eastern Ukraine. Nevertheless, violence continued, especially around the airport in Donetsk, with the truce being violated by both sides.
According the United Nations, at least 3,700 people have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine, which broke out in mid-April.
kms/nm (AFP, Reuters, dpa)