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Afghan rebels targeting civilians, says rights group

A New York-based group says the Taliban are increasingly targeting civilians.

world Updated: Apr 16, 2007 13:33 IST
Terry Friel

As the bloodshed in Afghanistan worsens, the Taliban are increasingly targeting civilians, the New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a new report on Monday.

The group accuses the Taliban and other insurgents of war crimes in its latest report, "The Human Cost".

"Suicide bombings and other insurgent attacks have risen dramatically since 2005, with almost 700 civilians dying last year at the hands of the Taliban and other insurgent groups," Human Rights Watch terrorism and counter-terrorism director Joanne Mariner said in a statement.

"The insurgents are increasingly committing war crimes, often by directly targeting civilians.

Even when they're aiming at military targets, insurgent attacks are often so indiscriminate that Afghan civilians end up as the main victims."

NATO says several hundred civilians have already died this year. Last year, more than 4,000 people died in fighting. Afghan officials say about a quarter of them were civilians.

But Human Rights Watch says while about 900 were killed by foreign, Afghan and militant forces, another 300-400 deaths could not be positively attributed to either side.

Foreign troops also under fire

The latest Human Rights Watch report focuses on civilians deaths caused by militants.

But a previous report by the group was also critical of foreign troops over civilian casualties.

On Saturday, Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission issued a report saying US Marines had broken the law when they killed several civilians in apparently indiscriminate shooting in Jalalabad after their convoy was bombed.

The elite unit was recalled early just days later.

Human Rights Watch also cited figures showing an increase in suicide bombings in 2006 from 21 to almost 140, saying the overwhelming number of victims were civilians although the targets were mainly military.

"Suicide attacks killed eight times as many civilians as combatants," it said.

"I passed the cart and a few seconds later the bomb exploded," the report quoted Kabul resident and 2006 bomb victim Mohammad Yusef Aresh saying. "It was like an earthquake.

"I woke up and I saw people and body parts everywhere: fingers, hands, feet, toes. People were screaming.

White suit stained red

"I was wearing a white suit that day and I saw my suit was red. I can't walk fast now. You know, I was a boxer. I can't box any more.

"When I think about these things, it brings tears to my eyes. When I think about these things and put them together it makes me want to leave this country."

Frustrated by the failure of President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers to bring peace, and increasingly angry at the lack of jobs and reconstruction despite billions of dollars in aid, many Afghans are growing ever more disillusioned, analysts and ordinary people say.

Despite abuses by the Taliban, rural Afghans with no income are turning to the insurgents, who pay more than many formal jobs, including the police force, they say.

In its report, Human Rights Watch also urged Pakistan, the Taliban's former backers, to do more to secure the border.

The Taliban, drug-runners and criminals easily slip across the porous and rugged frontier.

Afghanistan and its foreign allies say the Taliban, who draw their support from ethnic Pashtuns on both sides of the border, have been bolstered by the ability to shelter and train in Pakistan.

Pakistan denies any formal support for the Taliban, says it is doing all it can to seal the border and insists the main problem lies inside Afghanistan.