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ICRC warns of rising civilian toll in Pakistan, Afghanistan

world Updated: Mar 30, 2009 20:28 IST

The Red Cross warned on Monday that it expected a surge in civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Pakistan over the coming months as military operations are stepped up there.

On the eve of a conference on Afghanistan and neighbouring countries, the International Committee of the Red Cross urged the nations taking part to "consider the plight of civilians as a matter of urgency."

The ICRC feared the emphasis on the political and military dimension was overshadowing the worsening humanitarian situation, especially in border areas of Pakistan, said Jacques de Maio, the group's South Asia head of operations.

"My point is that there is no such thing as a clean war and both what's going on in Afghanistan and in Pakistan right now is an ample demonstration of that," he added.

"The impact on civilians is too high and can be minimised."

The ICRC statement came just days after US President Barack Obama put Pakistan at the centre of the fight against Al-Qaeda as part of his new and intensified strategy for intervention in Afghanistan.

De Maio acknowledged that the ICRC's appeal was partly influenced by "the international community updating their strategies."

"In both Afghanistan and in Pakistan it is expected that the political and military dynamics of the conflict will further endanger the lives and livelihoods of civilians in the short term," de Maio said in a statement.

"Their safety and welfare will depend on enhanced respect for international humanitarian law, including for provisions protecting detainees and on a stronger neutral and independent humanitarian response," he added.

De Maio said the situation in tribal and northwestern areas of Pakistan in particular had worsened in recent months.

That included the number of people fleeing their homes and those wounded by weapons in a conflict involving a "complex constellation" of political and military movements.

The Geneva-based agency said it had taken care of an estimated 40,000 displaced people in those areas last year, compared with none in 2007. It was gearing up to deal with 140,000 displaced in 2009.

President Hamid Karzai and senior government officials, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and other world leaders are due to attend the conference in The Hague on Tuesday.

It is expected to build on the new US plan unveiled last week to tackle rising extremism in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and to strengthen the Afghan state by rooting out corruption and ramping up reconstruction.

De Maio said there was a widening humanitarian gap in Afghanistan and Pakistan that left the victims largely under-served.

Aid deployment in some tribal areas of northwestern Pakistan was very dangerous, despite the ICRC's contacts with different sides among the "armed opposition," Pakistani Taleban and the army, he added.