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    UN rights office says evidence growing of Mariupol mass graves

    By Emma Farge

    GENEVA (Reuters) -The head of the U.N. human rights team in Ukraine said on Friday that monitors had received more information about mass graves in the besieged port city of Mariupol, including one that appeared to hold 200 bodies.

    "We have got increasing information on mass graves that are there," Matilda Bogner told journalists by video link from Ukraine, saying some of the evidence came from satellite images.

    She did not elaborate further on the evidence, adding that it was not clear whether the dead were soldiers or civilians.

    The U.N. rights office, which has some 50 staff in the country, has so far counted 1,081 civilian deaths since Russia invaded on Feb. 24.

    But verification difficulties meant that toll included "very few" from Mariupol, which has been under heavy bombardment for weeks and virtually cut off from all communication, Bogner said.

    "The extent of civilian casualties and the extent of damage raises serious concerns and suggests strongly there have been violations of international humanitarian law and in particular of indiscriminate attacks," she said.

    A Reuters journalist who reached a part of Mariupol held by Russian forces on Sunday saw several bodies lying by the road and a group of men digging graves in a patch of grass by the roadside.

    Bogner's team is probing alleged human rights violations, such as reports that Russian forces had shot and killed civilians in their cars as they were fleeing; dozens of cases of disappearances of Ukrainian officials and journalists; and the forced movement of civilians into Russian-held territory.

    Its work is set to be boosted by a new commission of inquiry approved by the Geneva-based Human Rights Council this month. Three rights experts are set to be appointed "in the coming days", a spokesperson for the Council said on Friday.

    Russia, which has called its actions since Feb. 24 a "special operation", has denied targeting civilians in Ukraine. Russian news agencies have said buses have carried several hundred people Moscow calls "refugees" from Mariupol to Russia.

    Bogner said her team have also received reports of violations by Ukrainian forces including indiscriminate shelling in Donetsk, eastern Ukraine, and two alleged killings of civilians due to their perceived support for Russia.

    Ukrainian authorities have repeatedly said that they have never targeted civilians, adding that the people who are in Donetsk and Luhansk are Ukrainians.

    (Reporting by Emma Farge, editing by Miranda Murray and Hugh Lawson)



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