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Page last updated at 14:53 GMT, Tuesday, 16 September 2008 15:53 UK

Afghan civilian casualties soar


Afghans grieve over family members allegedly killed in a US air strike
Both sides have been blamed over civilian casualties

There has been a sharp increase in the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan this year, according to new figures released by the United Nations.

They show that August had the highest number of deaths since the overthrow of the Taleban almost seven years ago.

The UN says that from January to August 1,445 civilians were killed - a rise of 39% on the same period last year.

Meanwhile, members of parliament are holding a one-day walk-out in protest the increase in civilian casualties.

A senior member of the senate, Abdul Khaliq Hosseini Pashaei, said the senators would hold further protests if measures were not taken by the Afghan government and foreign forces to reduce the number of civilian deaths.

Anger

The BBC's Imogen Foulkes in Geneva - where the UN report was released - says that the issue of civilian casualties at the hands of foreign forces has caused widespread anger across the country.

Afghan doctors treat a civilian casualty

The figures were collected by the human rights team of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

What is especially worrying, says spokesman Rupert Colville, is that every month things seem to get worse.

"August was a particularly bad month - 330 civilians killed," he said.

"That's the highest number of civilian deaths to occur in a single month since the end of major hostilities and the ousting of the Taleban regime at the end of 2001."

Fifty-five percent of civilian deaths so far in 2008 can be attributed to the Taleban, the UN says.

That is double the number for which they were held responsible last year.

Among the most recent, two doctors working for the World Health Organisation's polio vaccination campaign were killed with their driver by a suicide bomber on Sunday.

The WHO has now put its vaccination campaign in Kandahar province on hold - 1.2 million children may go unvaccinated.

Meanwhile, civilian casualties caused by pro-government forces are rising too - 577 so far this year, compared with 477 over the same period last year.

Over two-thirds were caused by air strikes and the UN is calling for an independent assessment of damage, so that survivors and relatives can be compensated.


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