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Rising death toll prompts UN warning on protecting Afghan civilians

29 May 2007 The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) is stepping up its efforts to better protect civilians amid the recent wave of fighting involving the Taliban, other terrorist groups and Government forces that has led to the deaths of hundreds of people and injuries to thousands more.

UNAMA plans to hold a national conference in August that will bring together the Government, Afghan forces, the international military presence and Afghan civil society to examine ways to ensure the safety and welfare of all communities, the Mission said in a press release issued yesterday in the capital, Kabul.

In recent weeks UNAMA staff have held consultations with local communities in conflict-affected areas of Afghanistan, including the cities of Jalalabad, Assadabad, Gardez, Herat and Kandahar.

UNAMA’s human rights chief Richard Bennett called on all sides in the current fighting to pay particular effort to ensure that civilians are protected and to especially avoid, where possible, combat inside heavily populated areas.

“International humanitarian law is clear – the safety of civilians must come first and foremost,” he said.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in recent months because of the clashes from suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and executions by the Taliban and other insurgent groups, or because of operations by Afghan and international military forces.

Mr Bennett accused insurgent groups of showing “a wanton disregard” for human life and noted that they have often deliberately chosen civilian locations to plan and launch attacks.

He added that military forces need to take more precautions before launching their operations, including by forewarning local communities where possible, and always by obtaining accurate intelligence and being sensitive to local culture.

“We ask all parties to the conflict to cooperate with UNAMA and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) while carrying out independent verification missions into alleged incidents involving civilians,” he said. “UNAMA stands ready to assist in these efforts over the coming months to ensure that safety of the Afghan people comes first.”

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