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UN Says 2,100 Civilians Killed In Afghanistan In 2008

Afghans injured in a coalition air strike, one of the major causes of civilian casualties
GENEVA (Reuters) - More than 2,100 civilians were killed last year in Afghanistan because of escalating fighting that spread to new areas, the top UN aid official has said.

John Holmes, the UN emergency relief coordinator, announced the toll on February 3 to representatives of donor countries while launching a UN funding appeal for $604 million for Afghanistan in 2009.

"According to UN figures, over 2,100 civilians were killed as a result of armed conflict in 2008, which represents an increase of about 40 percent from 2007," Holmes said in a speech, the text of which was issued to reporters in Geneva.

He did not say whether the majority of civilian casualties were due to Taliban militants or U.S.-led air strikes in the country, where violence is at the highest levels since the 2001 overthrow of the Islamist militants.

The Taliban have regrouped and, despite the presence of nearly 70,000 international troops, in the past year have increased both the scope and scale of their attacks.

Meanwhile, U.S.-led air strikes that have killed civilians have provoked anger among Afghans and resentment against the presence of foreign troops.

"The armed conflict is increasingly characterized by the use of suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices, kidnappings, and air strikes, all of which tend to increase civilian casualties," the UN funding appeal document said.