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UN Rights Chief Laments Troops' Role In Afghan Deaths

The UN's Louise Arbour (file photo) (epa) November 21, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has criticized insurgents and international troops in Afghanistan for the mounting civilian death toll.

Speaking in Kabul on November 20 at the end of a six-day visit, Arbour accused the Taliban of deliberately targeting civilians, including teachers and humanitarian workers, in attacks aimed at destabilizing the central government. She said fighters routinely take shelter in the homes of ordinary Afghans and use them as human shields.

More than 200 civilians have been reported killed by Taliban-linked suicide bombs in 2007. Hundreds more have been killed in military operations by the Afghan National Army and international troops.

Arbour said the number of civilians killed during military operations -- especially during air strikes by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S.-led coalition forces -- has reached "alarming levels."

"In my discussions with ISAF commanders, I am persuaded that they are well aware of the significance of this problem, and were receptive to the call that they should have methodologies that will act as preventive measures so as to diminish the civilian exposures to their activities," Arbour said.

At the beginning of the year, NATO declared that it would make avoiding civilian deaths a priority, and ISAF says it has already changed procedures for carrying out air strikes to minimize civilian casualties.

Arbour also voiced her concern about women's rights situation in Afghanistan. "The gender-equality agenda in Afghanistan was not receiving the level of attention -- domestically and internationally -- that I think it deserves," she said. "In fact, I think that the provision for 28 percent of seats in parliament to be reserved for women has, in fact, obscured the fact that they are very absent from virtually all other sectors of public and political life, particularly from the judicial sector."

(RFE/RL Radio Free Afghanistan contribued to this report.)

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