By Alessandra Prentice
KIEV (Reuters) - A total of 2,593 people, including civilians as well as Ukrainian and separatist combatants, have been killed in fighting in eastern Ukraine since it erupted in mid-April, a senior U.N. human rights official said on Friday.
"The trend is clear and alarming. There is a significant increase in the death toll in the east," Ivan Simonovic, U.N. Assistant Secretary General for Human Rights, told journalists.
"The current number of killed is 2,593 - close to 3,000 if we include the 298 victims of the MH17 (Malaysian airliner) plane crash," he said.
Simonovic, presenting a report by a U.N. monitoring mission, said civilian casualties would continue to rise "as each side increases its strength, through mobilisation, better organisation or the deployment of new fighters and more sophisticated weapons and support from outside."
The death toll was nearly 400 more than that given in the report, which covered the period up to August 17.
Simonovic said that the alleged increased participation of foreign fighters in the hostilities - a reference to Russian troops and volunteer fighters - was especially disturbing.
The report accused pro-Russian separatists of a wide array of human rights abuses, including murder, abductions and torture, and said they were receiving a "steady supply" of sophisticated weapons and ammunition.
The report, prepared by the U.N. human rights office in Geneva, also cited reports of human rights violations by Ukraine's military forces and special battalions run by the Interior Ministry. [ID:nL1N0QW1HV]
"Armed groups continue to commit killings, abductions, physical and psychological torture, ill treatment, executions, murder and other serious human rights abuses," the report said, adding that violations were disproportionately targeting civilians.
"The Ukraine military has reported shelling from (Russian) territory...and of the illegal use of landmines in Ukraine territory," the monitors said.
(Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Angus MacSwan)