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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 April, 2004, 15:14 GMT 16:14 UK
US Marines deny Falluja violations
A US Marine spokesman has strongly rejected widespread allegations that civilians have been targeted during the three-week siege of the Iraqi city of Falluja.

Maj TV Johnson told BBC News Online that allegations that Marines had shot at ambulances and non-combatant civilians, and denied access to the main hospital, were "very serious" but had "little substance".

US soldier ahead of Iraqi ambulances entering Falluja from Baghdad, 12 April

"Discipline, well-aimed fire, respect for the law of land warfare and human decency are all hallmarks of United States Marines," Maj Johnson said.

"The behaviour described in the collection of allegations is nothing short of criminal. Marines do not fire on non-combatants... period," he added.

With approximately 35 journalists embedded with US Marines in Falluja, Maj Johnson asked why such allegations had not appeared in the first-hand reports of these journalists.

"The answer? Because they simply aren't happening," Maj Johnson said.

Shooting on ambulances, mosques

In response to allegations of firing on ambulances, Maj Johnson said insurgents have repeatedly used ambulances to transport weapons and healthy fighting men.

"Mosques and their minarets have been repeatedly used as military positions by these forces.

Maj Johnson stressed that medical vehicles and mosques enjoy special protection and are exempt from being targeted.

"However, that special status is forfeited when mosques and medical vehicles are used for military purposes," he added.

Sniper fire

In response to allegations that US snipers fired at civilians, Maj Johnson said US snipers were exceedingly selective about targets.

"Shooting a non-combatant is not only wrong, it is also contrary to the mission. Earning the trust of the people of Falluja and all Iraqis is key if we are to be successful in our mission to help re-build Iraq."

He said that for the safety of non-combatants, a 1900-0600 curfew was established at the outset of operations. This information was broadcast in Arabic via radio and loudspeakers.

"Deaths of non-combatants are always unfortunate and are an extremely sad consequence of armed conflict.

"As the anti-coalition forces generally wear civilian clothes, not uniforms, their casualties indeed resemble civilians, not the cold terrorists that they are.

Falluja hospital

It has also been reported that the main hospital was cut off and inaccessible to the city's residents.

Maj Johnson said restrictions on movement had been imposed, but the Marines had never prevented movement of essential humanitarian items.

"The cordon around the city was a necessary control measure to ensure anti-Iraq forces could not smuggle arms or reinforcements into the city.

"Food, water, medicine and other humanitarian supplies were never denied access to the city."

The BBC's James Blatch
"Holed up in a battered building US troops are still exchanging heavy fire"


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