UNITED NATIONS, Aug. 18 (Xinhua) -- United Nations Secretary- General Ban Ki-moon was "deeply disturbed" by alarming reports regarding a deadly attack on a refugee convoy in Ukraine's eastern Lugansk region Monday, a UN spokesman told reporters here.
The UN chief "urges all sides to respect the rules governing the status of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees and to allow safe passage to anyone attempting to leave areas of active military operations," Ban's spokesperson Stephane Dujarric said at the daily briefing.
"This tragic incident makes the urgency of a ceasefire and a diplomatic solution even more stark," said Dujarric, adding that Ban has asked UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman to return to Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, this week.
A convoy of refugees was hit by heavy shelling at 9:40 a.m. local time (0640 GMT) near the villages of Novoselovka and Khryashchevatoe, not far from the area where Ukrainian troops are fighting independence-seeking insurgents, a Ukrainian military spokesman said earlier Monday. Dozens of civilians, including children, have been killed in the attack.
Ukrainian officials blamed the rebels for the deadly attack. However, Andrei Purgin, the self-styled deputy prime minister of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic, denied the accusation.
At least 2,000 people have been killed since the government troops launched an offensive against rebels in the eastern regions of Lugansk and Donetsk in mid April.
The four-month-long conflict has also displaced over 300,000 civilians, according to the UN estimates.