( AFP ) - NATO forces in Afghanistan would never "intentionally" kill civilians, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a conference of the alliance and its partners Friday.
The comments were apparently in response to criticism last week from Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who accused the NATO-led ISAF force and separate US-led coalition of killing about 90 civilians this month, most of them in air operations.
"Let me make one point unmistakably clear -- NATO has never killed and will never intentionally kill innocent civilians," de Hoop Scheffer said in an address to the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) security forum.
The forum, only the second since the loose grouping was established 10 years ago, was held at the lakeside Macedonian resort town of Ohrid, around which there was a tight security net involving speedboats, helicopters and around 5,000 police.
"The majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan have been caused by Taliban suicide bombs and roadside bombs," the NATO chief told the meeting of some 600 delegates.
"They, our opponents, show absolutely no hesitation to slaughter or maim the Afghan people with their indiscriminate attacks -- they even take their wives and children with them on suicide missions to reduce the chances of them being caught."
De Hoop Scheffer said ISAF could achieve success in Afghanistan by winning over the people of the war-torn country.
"In Afghanistan, especially in the southern part of the country, we have faced and continue to face serious combat action to counter those forces who want to frustrate our reconstruction efforts," he said.
"But despite this, I remain convinced that we will succeed in our UN-mandated mission... Our ultimate success will not come by way of military victory, but will depend primarily on reconstruction and development."
The alliance chief called on all EAPC members -- NATO and 23 Euro-Atlantic partners -- to contribute to efforts to help Afghanistan's development.
Energy security and Kosovo were among the other issues topping the agenda in Ohrid.
Turning to the latter, de Hoop Scheffer said NATO would guarantee the peace there despite delays in resolving its status and threats of violence.
"The biggest issue affecting this region at the moment is Kosovo," said the NATO secretary general.
A proposal by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari for the supervised independence of Kosovo was "fair, firm and comprehensive," he said while warning against any lengthy delays to the status process.
"I think we should prevent unnecessary delay in trying to find a solution for the status of Kosovo," de Hoop Scheffer said in his keynote address to the forum.
"The 16,000 men and women of KFOR are there to guarantee this climate of security and stability in Kosovo," he said.
"No-one should have any illusion that he or she could change the situation by means of violence. KFOR is there to provide and will provide it."
De Hoop Scheffer made the statement a day after the NATO-led KFOR troops intervened heavily during a rally by Serb extremists to mark the anniversary of a medieval Kosovo battle.
Kosovo has been administered by a United Nations mission since mid-1999, when a 78-day NATO bombing campaign drove out Serb forces waging a brutal crackdown on the province's ethnic Albanian majority.
The international community hopes to resolve its status in the coming months through the adoption of a new UN Security Council resolution.
Serbia, which is adamantly opposed to Kosovo's independence, has won the backing of veto-wielding permanent Council member Russia.
Since last month, Moscow has rejected three draft resolutions based on the Ahtisaari proposal.
Following the forum, the NATO secretary general is scheduled to travel to the Kosovo capital Pristina to meet with ethnic Albanian leaders later Friday.