KABUL - The United Nations and two prominent human rights organisations have raised grave concerns about the increasing number of civilians affected in armed conflicts in Afghanistan.
Burnt children after a NATO bomb attack. Their disfigured faces are the real face of war (by Maso Notarianni)
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On Monday, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on the dramatic rise in civilian casualties during insurgent attacks in Afghanistan.
"Fifty-two civilians were killed in insurgent attacks in the first two months of 2007," the 116-page report says.
The Taliban and guerrillas of the Hezbi Islami (under Gulboddin Hekmatyar) are increasingly committing war crimes by intentionally targeting civilians in their armed conflicts, says the report, entitled 'The Human Cost: The Consequence of Insurgent Attacks in Afghanistan'.
The Taliban and other insurgents have declared 'jihad' (holy war) against those that support what they call the US invasion of Afghanistan since October 2001.
Thousands of Afghans have died in an insurgency that has destabilised southern and south-eastern parts of the country. However, there are no exact figures for civilians killed or injured since the US ousted the Taliban from power in late 2001.
The Taliban have used suicide bombings and have targeted civilians, including aid workers, school teachers, government employees and all those who they perceive to be collaborating with the US and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
On 7 April, insurgents killed seven mine-clearing workers in the volatile province of Farah. In another incident on Sunday, a suicide bomber killed eight civilians and injured a dozen in the southern province of Kandahar. The Taliban have reportedly claimed responsibility for these and other attacks in which civilians are widely affected.
Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) has said that in 2006 alone, more than 650 civilians were killed in fighting between Islamic insurgents and Afghan government forces backed by the US and NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF).
Violating international laws
On 5 March, nine members of a single family died when a US warplane bombed a house in the Kapisa province to the north of the Afghan capital, Kabul.
On Saturday, AIHRC accused US forces in Afghanistan of violating international laws in a recent shooting incident in the eastern province of Nangarhar in which 12 people were killed and 35 injured.
"The AIHRC's investigation of the incident of 4 March 2007 suggests that US forces acted in serious violation of international humanitarian law by directly attacking non-military targets in several different locations, contravening the principles of distinction between combatants and civilians and Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions," said an investigative report compiled by the rights watchdog.
US forces have denied any wrongdoing and have defended the soldiers' shoot out as an act of self-defence, but they have promised a thorough investigation of the incident.
The deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan has caused widespread local and international anxieties. UN sources have confirmed that 75 percent of insurgent suicide attacks in 2007 have targeted government and or security forces, but the vast majority of victims have been civilians.
"The [UN] Secretary General is deeply concerned over the level of insecurity in Afghanistan, as witnessed by events over the weekend in the south and south West of the country," stated a statement released by the UN Secretary General Office on 10 April.
Both AIHRC and the HRW have called on insurgents and multinational forces in Afghanistan to respect international war laws and undertake all possible measures to ensure civilians protection in their armed conflicts.