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NATO Chief says Taleban, al-Qaida Hide Behind Civilians


NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says the alliance must do everything in its power to avoid civilian casualties in Afghanistan. But he warned that NATO opponents in Afghanistan cannot be put on the same moral ground as alliance forces. Sabina Castelfranco reports from Rome.

Amid growing concerns about the killing of innocent people by NATO forces in Afghanistan, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer says the alliance will do and has to do everything in its ability to prevent civilian casualties.

"For NATO every single innocent life lost in Afghanistan in one too many," he said.

The NATO chief was addressing reporters following a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi on the sidelines of a two-day conference on Afghanistan's rule of law, under way at the Foreign Ministry in Rome.

The secretary-general said no NATO soldier or coalition soldier would ever intentionally kill innocent civilians. He also made clear that no one should forget that NATO and the international community's opponents in Afghanistan cannot be placed in the same moral category as NATO forces.

"Our opponent mingles and mixes with innocent civilians. They are in a different moral category," he said. "I mean, we do not intentionally kill. They behead people, they burn schools, they kill women and children. In other words, let us not forget that. But having said that, NATO will do and has to do everything in its ability to prevent civilian casualties."

De Hoop Scheffer said that NATO would look at its procedures and coordination with other forces operating in Afghanistan so that the right procedures are in place to avoid civilian casualties as much as possible.

Civilian casualties in Afghanistan has been a sensitive issue for the international military mission there. President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly asked international forces to take better care of Afghan lives.

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