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Sunday, 16 September, 2001, 22:33 GMT 23:33 UK
Call for caution over military action
Clare Short
Clare Short: "Unbearable" loss of innocent lives
The International Development Secretary Clare Short has issued a stark warning against taking military action which could kill innocent civilians in response to the US terror attacks.

In comments welcomed by charity leaders, she specifically urged the US not do anything to make life worse for the ordinary people of Afghanistan.

These civilians had suffered 20 years of war and four years of drought, she said, in an interview with BBC Radio 4's Westminster Hour.

Instead of attacking innocent Afghans, efforts should be made to relieve their suffering, she said.

We need to do things to relieve the suffering of the people of Afghanistan

Clare Short
Ms Short was speaking shortly after Prime Minister Tony Blair announced the UK was "at war with terrorism".

The prime minister has given his strong support to president George W Bush over any US response to the attacks.

Ms Short said that what was intolerable about the attacks was that many innocent people had lost their lives.

"It would be unbearable if the response was a lot more innocent people losing their lives and inflaming the atmosphere," she said.

"All serious people do not want a lot of innocent people to be bombed and lose their lives.

"Everyone who's got any influence ought to use their influence to try to achieve that outcome."

'Proportionate action'

Ms Short stressed that Afghans had not voted for the Taleban regime to be in power and had not voted to allow Osama Bin Laden to reside in their country.

She highlighted the need for action to deal with the causes of unhappiness which made young people willing to be suicide bombers.

The attacks on the US were deeply evil and needed a thoughtful and considered response, she said.

"Very serious international action" was needed to deal with the people responsible to make sure they could not continue to operate.

That action had to be "proportionate, intelligent and informed", she said.

Ms Short called for renewed efforts in the Middle East peace process and a review of the sanctions policy against Iraq.

The suffering in Palestine had become unbearable and represented a "failure of Western policy", she added.

Her comments about Afghanistan were welcomed by the charity Christian Aid, which has already withdrawn some staff from the country after of warnings of military attacks.

The charity's programme officer for the country, Chris Buckley, said: "At this time it's really important for western governments to increase their aid and support for the people of Afghanistan, many of whom will still be unaware of the tragic events in the US."

The BBC's Laura Trevelyan
"Clare Short... sees herself very much as the conscience of the government"

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