`Afghan civilian deaths in 2008 highest since Taliban ouster’

February 18th, 2009 - 1:38 pm ICT by IANS  

United Nations, Feb 18 (Xinhua) The number of Afghan civilian casualties in 2008 rose to 2,118, the highest recorded since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001, the United Nations said in a new report.
The number of those killed last year represents an almost 40 percent increase over 2007, when 1,523 people lost their lives due to conflict, according to the report prepared by the Human Rights Unit of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

Of the 2,118 casualties reported between Jan 1 and Dec 31, 2008, 55 percent, or 1,160 deaths, were attributed to anti-government elements and 39 percent to pro-government forces, the report said.

The remaining six percent, or 130 deaths, could not be attributed to any of the parties since some of them died as a result of crossfire or were killed by mines or bombs lying around, the report said.

“The 2008 civilian death toll is thus the highest of any year since the end of major hostilities which resulted in the demise of the Taliban regime at the end of 2001,” the UNAMA said.

“This disquieting pattern demands that the parties to the conflict take all necessary measures to avoid the killing of civilians.”

The majority of the casualties, some 41 percent, occurred in the volatile southern region in Afghanistan, which saw heavy fighting in several provinces, according to the report.

The 1,160 civilians killed by anti-government elements represent an increase of 65 percent over 2007 figures. The vast majority, which accounts for 85 percent, of them died as a result of suicide and improvised explosive devises, the report said.

Air-strikes were responsible for the largest percentage, some 64 percent, of civilian deaths attributed to pro-government forces last year, with night-time raids, which sometimes result in death and injury to civilians, a continuing concern, according to the report.

“While pro-government forces have instituted a number of changes to tactical directives, more needs to be done to avoid the loss of innocent lives. Afghans are, rightly, calling for greater accountability as well as precautionary measures to safeguard the lives of civilians,” UNAMA said in a press release.

The report also notes that the deteriorating security situation and drastically reduced humanitarian access intensified the challenge for the humanitarian agencies to address the growing needs of vulnerable Afghans. “By the end of 2008, ‘humanitarian space’ had shrunk considerably.”

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