US says Russia will fake scene around mass POW deaths to blame Ukraine

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WASHINGTON (AFP) - A US official accused Moscow on Thursday (Aug 4) of preparing to plant fake evidence to make it look like the recent mass killing of Ukrainian prisoners in an attack on a Russian-controlled prison was caused by Ukraine.

Kyiv and Moscow have traded blame over the strikes on the prison in Kremlin-controlled Olenivka in eastern Ukraine, which Russia said took place overnight on July 29.

"We expect that Russian officials are planning to falsify evidence in order to attribute the attack on Olenivka Prison on July 29 to the Ukrainian Armed Forces," said White House spokesman John Kirby.

"We anticipate that Russian officials will try to frame (Ukraine's military) in anticipation of journalists and potential investigators visiting the site of the attack," he said.

Mr Kirby cited undisclosed US intelligence reports in making the claim.

But he said the United States expects that Moscow will try to pin the blame on a US-supplied Himars precision-guided missile, using “planted evidence” of fragments of such missiles allegedly found at the site.

Claims to that extent are already appearing in the media, Mr Kirby said.

More than 50 soldiers died in the incident, including troops who had surrendered after weeks of defending the Azovstal steel works in Mariupol.

Russia has claimed that Ukraine carried out a strike on its own captured fighters, while Ukrainian authorities accuse Russia of covering up a deliberate massacre.

Russian television images showed a charred room crammed with burned bed frames but independent experts are so far unclear on what could have caused the damage visible.

The United Nations has announced a fact-finding mission, though it has not yet received final approval from Kyiv or Moscow.

President Volodymyr Zelensky claimed there had been "a deliberate mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war."

The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had requested access to the site immediately after learning of the alleged attack on July 29.

But on Wednesday the ICRC said it had not yet received access to understand the fate of the Ukrainian prisoners of war.

“As of yet, we have not been granted access to the POWs affected by the attack nor do we have security guarantees to carry out this visit,” the organization said.

“We will keep requesting access to POWs who are or were held in Olenivka, and any other sites where POWs are held, guided by our humanitarian commitment and our mandate under the Geneva Conventions.”

Russia has carried out numerous attacks on civilians in its invasion of Ukraine, with evidence of summary executions and frequent aerial bombing or shelling of civilians.

In each case, Moscow has either denied committing atrocities or blamed them on Ukraine attacking its own side.

On Tuesday, Russian authorities said that Russian prisoners held by Ukraine had been subjected to "inhuman treatment."

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