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Civilian deaths in Afghanistan down 13 percent: UN

Civilian deaths in Afghanistan fell 13 percent in the first three months of the year compared to the same period of 2015, the United Nations reports. Injuries, however, saw an 11 percent increase.

The total number of civilian casualties since 2009 is over 60,000, according to a report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

As government forces continue to battle a powerful

Taliban insurgency

, about 60 percent of the casualties in the three-month period were caused by anti-government forces while government forces caused 19 percent. Most of the remaining casualties could not be attributed definitively to either side.

Civilian casualties may continue to rise as the Taliban intensify their operations against government forces since the launch of their spring offensive, UNAMA said.

In total, about 600 people were killed and 1,343 people were injured between 1 January and 31 March 2016, that is up 2 percent year-on-year. It compares to 688 killed and 1,210 injured during the same period of 2015, the report said.

UNAMA noted that casualties among children, including deaths and injuries, had seen a sharp increase of 29 per cent, to 610.

"In the first quarter of 2016, almost one third of civilian casualties were children," said Danielle Bell, UNAMA's human rights director.

"If the fighting persists near schools, playgrounds, homes and clinics, and parties continue to use explosive weapons in those areas - particularly mortars and IED improvised explosive device tactics, these appalling numbers of children killed and maimed will continue."

The report noted that intensified fighting in populated areas caused a nearly 30 percent increase in child casualties and a 5 percent increase in casualties among women.

Warnings

"Even if a conflict intensifies, it does not have to be matched by corresponding civilian suffering provided parties take their international humanitarian law and human rights obligations seriously," said Nicholas Haysom, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of UNAMA.

The mission called "on all parties to the conflict to take precautions to protect civilians during operations."

Since Friday, the nationwide offensive has seen intense fighting in several areas of northern Kunduz province, which was briefly captured by the group last year.

The United Nations has reported 600 civilian deaths in Afghanistan's war in the first quarter of this year, a marked decline from the same period last year, but says the number of civilians wounded in combat has risen.

jbh/jlw (dpa, AP)

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