Hundreds of men missing amid Aleppo fighting: UN

It says the men had fled into govt-controlled areas; armed groups stop flight of civilians

GENEVA • The United Nations yesterday voiced concern that hundreds of men may have gone missing after fleeing into government- controlled parts of Aleppo and said armed groups could be blocking civilians from leaving the shrinking areas under their control.

"While it's very difficult to establish the facts in such a fluid and dangerous situation, we have received very worrying allegations that hundreds of men have gone missing after crossing into government-controlled areas," UN rights office spokesman Rupert Colville said.

He said the men were between the ages of 30 and 50, and their family members said they had lost contact with them after they fled opposition-controlled areas of Aleppo around a week or 10 days ago.

"Given the terrible record of arbitrary detention, torture and enforced disappearances by the Syrian government, we are of course deeply concerned about the fate of these individuals," Mr Colville said.

His comments came as Syrian government artillery bombarded the fast-shrinking rebel enclave in the heart of Aleppo despite its ally Russia's announcement of a new humanitarian pause, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The army has recaptured 85 per cent of the eastern sector of the city which the rebels had held since summer 2012.

The assault has prompted a mass exodus from east Aleppo where at least 80,000 people have fled their homes, according to the monitor.

Mr Colville warned that "there have been allegations of reprisals against civilians who are perceived to have supported armed opposition groups" as they fled into government-held areas.

It is unclear how many civilians remain in rebel territory, but there were an estimated 250,000 in east Aleppo prior to the latest offensive.

Mr Colville said it is believed more than 100,000 people still remain inside the areas controlled by the opposition in east Aleppo, but warned the situation was fluid and the numbers were unclear.

He said armed Syrian opposition groups were reportedly blocking civilians from leaving their shrinking enclave, and had allegedly abducted and killed people who protested against their presence.

"During the last two weeks, Fatah al-Sham Front (formerly al-Nusra Front) and the Abu Amara Battalion are alleged to have abducted and killed an unknown number of civilians who requested the armed groups to leave their neighbourhoods, to spare the lives of civilians," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 10, 2016, with the headline 'Hundreds of men missing amid Aleppo fighting: UN'. Print Edition | Subscribe