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UN: sharp rise in Afghan civilian deaths

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 10 August 2010

As the UN says insurgents are behind the rising number of civilian casualties, Afghanistan Rights Monitor tells Channel 4 News that without confidence between the Taliban and humanitarian workers a peace process will never work.

The number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan went up by almost a third in the first half of the year (Getty)

The number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan went up by almost a third in the first half of the year, according to a United Nations report, which says the Taliban is responsible for most deaths and injuries in the country.

The report by the UN's mission in Afghanistan said 1,271 civilians had died in conflict-related incidents in the last six months and that woman and children were "increasingly bearing the brunt of the conflict".

After a drive to reduce civilian casualties, the international forces today welcomed the news that deaths and injuries attributed to Nato and government forces fell to 12 per cent - down from 30 per cent a year ago.

This year has been the worst period for civilian casualties since the conflict began nine year ago, the report revealed.

Stefan De Mistura, the UN's senior envoy in Afghanistan, said today that if the Taliban wanted to be part of Afghanistan's future "they cannot do so over the bodies of so many civilians".

Report has 'peace implications'
The Afghanistan Rights Monitor told Channel 4 News that there was increasing concern that the UN were seen to be "siding" with international forces and that today's report had serious implications on a future peace process.

While condemning the alarming rate of civilian deaths in a conflict which has intensified in the country, Ajmal Samadi, the director of Afghanistan Rights Monitor, told Channel 4 News it was important for the UN to remain impartial.

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"Blaming one side for all the problems will not solve the problem," Mr Samadi told Channel 4 News.

"The Taliban is certainly causing a large number of civilian deaths but if you talk to an Afghan and ask him who is to be blamed for the conflict then they blame all sides. It's not like the UN is coming up with some figures which are of doubt to many people inside Afghanistan.

"The Taliban have categorically rejected what the UN has said and has warned the UN of siding with international forces. That will have implications with the peace process and also implications for the safety and security for development workers, of humanitarian workers, because there will be no trust and confidence of the Taliban or development agencies and UN agencies who are providing and giving assistance in many parts of Afghanistan."

The UN told Channel 4 News that the figures were impartial and focussed on the facts.

"The focus of today's report is where attention should be - civilian casualties in this country are higher than ever before and the Taliban and other anti-government elements are behind the vast majority of those deaths and injuries," a spokesman said.

The human cost
The UN released its figures amid a stark warning of the danger to civilians across Afghanistan. Two suicide bombers killed up to five people in a residential area of the capital Kabul today while three Afghans were killed near the eastern city of Ghazni when their car hit a roadside bomb. Another civilian was killed went an insurgent device went off in Kandahar.

Mr Samadi told Channel 4 News that the conflict had intensified and that people had lost confidence in the Afghan government and international forces to keep them safe. 

"Inside Afghanistan we clearly understand that this conflict has gone very bad, that it has been bought into the streets of Kabul - it is not safe anywhere," he said.

"The people of Afghanistan do not believe that the government of President Hamid Karzai, and international forces supporting this government, can actually defeat the Taliban.

"The conflict has got more bloodied, the insurgency has become more resilient and multi-structured and even if the UN blames the Taliban, well, what is the point here? The Taliban do not trust the UN - it considers the UN part of the conflict. With these reports we actually lose the confidence of at least one side of the conflict and that should not be the position of the UN.

"No one is safe here - it's a full scale war unfortunately and it kills an alarming number of people."

The UN said today that the human cost of the conflict was "being paid too heavily by civilian Afghans".

Staffan de Mistura, the special representative of the secretary-general for Afghanistan, called the report "a wake up call" to all those involved in the conflict which was seeing a rise in bloodshed. 

Although the insurgents have ordered their fighters to avoid civilian casualties, anyone considered to be allied with the Afghan government is considered a target.

While calling on the Taliban to recognise that civilian deaths had to stop, the UN asked Nato forces to increase "their care in avoiding civilian casualties".

"[The UN] believe that everyone has come to this country to protect civilians and that should be the ultimate goal of everyone in this country," Mr De Mistura said.

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