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UN Reports Sharp Rise in Civilians Killed in Afghanistan

New U.N. figures show a sharp rise in the number of civilians killed in Afghanistan during the first eight months of this year, compared to the same period in 2007. The report was released by the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva from where Lisa Schlein reports for VOA.

The report finds the number of killings by the Taliban and other anti-government forces almost doubled this year by comparison with the first eight months of 2007. It says the number of civilians killed by government and international military forces also increased substantially.

U.N. Human Rights Spokesman Rupert Colville says the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan recorded a total of 1,445 civilian casualties in the first eight months of 2008. This is a 39 percent increase over last year.

"August was a particularly bad month. Out of [with] 330 civilians killed. That is the highest number of civilian deaths to occur in a single month since the end of major hostilities and the ousting of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001," said Colville. "The Taliban are believed to be responsible for exactly 800 killings or 55 percent of the total number [referring to total number of deaths in the first 8 months of 2008: 1,445]. That is almost double the 462 deaths last year in the same period."

Colville says a great many of these killings were carried out by suicide attacks and improvised explosive devices. He says the armed opposition uses these tactics extensively.

He says the Taliban also carried out more than 140 summary executions and there is substantial evidence showing the Taliban are carrying out a systematic campaign of intimidation and violence.

He says this campaign is aimed at Afghan civilians they believe support the Government, the international community, and military forces.

"The pro-government forces are reported to have been responsible for 577 civilian deaths during this period, which is up from 477 last year, so it is up around 20 percent or so," he added. "According to the statistics, 395 civilians of those killed by pro-government forces were killed in operations involving air strikes. That is over two-thirds of the total number killed by pro-government forces."

The report notes the most high-profile incidents include an air strike on a wedding party in Nangahar province in early July that resulted in 47 civilian deaths including 30 children.

This was followed by another deadly aerial attack in August by international forces. The so-called Shindand event is believed to have resulted in the deaths of more than 90 civilians, including up to 62 children.