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Worrying spike in civilian deaths

British soldiers destroy an improvised explosive device in Gereshk, Helmand Province
British soldiers destroy an improvised explosive device in Gereshk, Helmand Province (Kate Holt/IRIN)

More civilians were killed in Afghanistan in May than in any other month since 2007, raising fears of a further escalation during the summer with serious humanitarian implications, according to Georgette Gagnon, the human rights director of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

May saw 368 conflict-related civilian deaths and 593 civilian injuries, according to UNAMA.

Gagnon said she was concerned there had been so many casualities at such an early stage in the summer. “That is why we have been calling on all parties to protect civilians now because we are alarmed."

"We have also called on pro-government and international forces to ensure that night raids are carried out in a manner that protects Afghan civilians,” Gagnon told IRIN. "We have urged them to stop using devices that hurt people indiscriminately."

A spokesman of the Afghan president highlighted the significance of the killing of Osama Bin Laden. “After Osama Bin Laden was killed, the insurgents started revenge attacks in different parts of Afghanistan," said Hamed Elmi, deputy spokesman of President Hamid Karzai.

''After Osama Bin Laden was killed, the insurgents started revenge attacks in different parts of Afghanistan''

"The Afghan government is deeply concerned about the increase of civilian casualties in Afghanistan," he told IRIN.

Mohammad Hashem Mayar, deputy director of the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief (ACBAR), an umbrella group representing around 100 humanitarian and development NGOs in Afghanistan, said the violence could affect their operations.

"We are very concerned about the escalation of fighting this summer," he said. "This has got serious humanitarian implications including cutting aid organizations’ access in war-affected areas. We have had cases in the past where aid workers were killed, threatened or prevented from delivering aid. We have also had cases of aid convoys looted or burned down.

Thousands displaced

"Fighting in different parts of Afghanistan has displaced thousands of civilians and with the escalation of fighting it makes it so difficult to deliver assistance," Mayar added, noting that agriculture in affected areas could be disrupted at harvest-time.

"Our aid community’s message to all warring parties is to respect the impartiality of aid workers so that we can deliver aid on time," he added. "We are also asking them to execute the principle of proportionate use of force to avoid any unneccessary casualties."

Anti-government elements were responsible for 82 percent of all civilian deaths in May; 12 percent were attributed to pro-government forces; 6 percent were killed or injured in crossfire, it said.

Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) killed 119 and injured 274 in May. Most IEDs in Afghanistan are pressure-plate devices which are indiscriminate by nature. They are often placed alongside roads and in busy commercial areas thus leading to civilian casualties. Their widespread use by anti-government elements is a violation of international humanitarian law, UNAMA said.

Purported Taliban spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid rejected the UNAMA findings, claiming the organization was biased.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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