UN asks Afghan warring parties to protect civilians
The United Nations on Saturday asked warring parties in Afghanistan to "take all necessary measures to protect civilians", a statement by the world body said, dpa reported.
The appeal comes hours after the Taliban insurgents announced the start of their spring operations May 1 onwards against foreign troops and government officials.
"Parties to the conflict must not deliberately attack, target or kill civilians, or indiscriminately harm them," Staffan de Mistura, the UN chief in Afghanistan said in a statement.
Mistura said all fighting parties must take all possible measures to protect civilians, especially in the forthcoming months when fighting and hostilities will intensify, the statement said.
The Taliban on Saturday said they will attack high-ranking Afghan government officials, both military and civilian, members of the cabinet, political leaders, parliamentarians, senior employees of foreign and local companies, and contractors.
UN asked the Taliban to refrain in particular from attacking all such persons who are not taking a direct part in the hostilities. It also said warring parties should not launch attacks on civilian locations, like the government buildings, bazaars and parks.
The insurgents said they would aim to protect civilians thanks to "meticulous military plans." But they also instructed the civilians to "keep away from gatherings, convoys and military centers."
More than 140,000 foreign troops led by NATO are struggling against an insurgency which has lasted since the Taliban were ousted in 2001. A NATO official on Saturday said they anticipate the insurgents to "increase use of assassinations, spectacular attacks, and claims of infiltration".
Last month, the UN in a report said at least 2,777 Afghan civilians were killed in 2010, an increase of 15 per cent over the previous year, making it the most violent year since the war started.
Taliban and other insurgent groups were linked to 2,080 civilian deaths, almost a three quarters of total deaths, while Afghan and international forces were responsible for 440 civilian deaths.
UN in the Saturday statement also asked pro-government forces to protect civilians and prevent civilian casualties, a touchy issue between Afghan government and its foreign allies.
"Airstrikes by international military forces have resulted in the most civilian casualties caused by these forces," the UN said in the statement, asking the foreign forces to strictly enforce international laws and tactical directives for airstrikes.
At least 171 Afghan civilians were killed by NATO airstrike in 2010, according to UN count.
The UN said the pro-government forces should "fully respect Afghan cultural and religious practices" when engaging in night raids because it generates "fear, anger and resentment" among civilians.
"Afghan civilians have paid the price of war for too long - it is more urgent than ever that all parties act to prevent this suffering and that in the forthcoming spring we also see a surge in protection of civilians," Mistura said in the statement.