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Page last updated at 15:37 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 16:37 UK

Alarm over Afghan civilian deaths

British troops in Afghanistan
Troops and militants are blamed for civilian deaths

At least 250 Afghan civilians have been killed or wounded in insurgent attacks or military action in the past six days, the Red Cross says.

It has called on all parties to the conflict to avoid civilian casualties.

Nato said separately that more than 900 people including civilians had died in Afghanistan since the start of 2008.

On Monday a suicide bombing in Kabul killed more than 40 people, while officials say two coalition air strikes killed dozens at the weekend.

The issue of civilian casualties is hugely sensitive in Afghanistan.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly urged foreign forces to exercise more care.

'Constant care'

The statement released by the International Committee of the Red Cross say that civilians "must never be the target of an attack, unless they take a direct part in the fighting".

The coffin of an Indian official killed in Monday's Kabul suicide attack
More and more civilians are being killed in Afghanistan

The organisation's chief representative in Kabul, Franz Rauchenstein, made his findings public following Monday's suicide car bomb attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul and reports that a US-led coalition air strike had killed members of a wedding party in the east of the country.

"We call on all parties to the conflict, in the conduct of their military operations, to distinguish at all times between civilians and fighters and to take constant care to spare civilians," Mr Rauchenstein said.

His report said that parties to the conflict "must take all necessary precautions to verify that targets are indeed military objectives and that attacks will not cause excessive civilian casualties and damage".

The statement also expressed concern "about the reportedly high number of civilian casualties resulting from the recent [coalition] air strikes in the east of the country".

The Taleban has denied involvement in Monday's bombing, which killed 41 people, while the US-led coalition has disputed claims that its recent airstrikes killed civilians.

Mr Karzai has ordered an investigation into one of the bombings, in eastern Nangarhar province. Locals there said at least 20 people had been killed on Sunday at a wedding party.

US forces rejected the claims, saying those killed were militants involved in previous mortar attacks on a Nato base.

The UN said recently that the number of civilians killed in fighting in Afghanistan had jumped by nearly two thirds compared to last year.




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