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UN Not to Publish Findings on July 1 US Air Strike in Afghanistan - 2002-07-30

The United Nations has decided not to publish its initial assessment of the American air strike July 1 in Afghanistan that local Afghans say killed at least 50 civilians. The U.N. says it will defer to a formal inquiry underway by U.S. and Afghan authorities.

United Nations officials say the U.N. team that went the next day to the site of the American bombing was not qualified to assess the military situation. U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard noted the team was comprised of humanitarian workers who were supposed to find out what the area needed in terms of immediate relief supplies.

Mr. Eckhard said the team may have received some other information that could be useful, but it certainly does not amount to hard evidence.

"In the process, they picked up information that we judged would be valuable to someone conducting an investigation. But we also realized the limitations of the value of that evidence," he said. "Its value was that it was fresh, reports of what people said they saw. But their competence to judge its relevance to an in-depth professional investigation was in question."

An article in the Times newspaper of London said a preliminary U.N. report indicated that the United States may have been involved in a cover-up of the controversial bombing. The U.S. military has denied the allegation, and maintains the U.S. gunship came under direct hostile fire from the ground.

In a statement Monday, in response to the Times article, a United Nations spokesman said the draft U.N. report contained "judgments that were not sufficiently substantiated."

U.S. and Afghan authorities are conducting a formal inquiry into the incident, and the U.N. special envoy in Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, has decided not to pursue his own investigation at this point. At the same time, Mr. Brahimi has cautioned the Americans that protection of civilian lives should be a primary concern in the fight against terrorism in Afghanistan.