Thu, Jun 14, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Afghan suffering worsens as war intensifies


The impact of violence on civilians in Afghanistan is worse now than a year ago, a senior international Red Cross official said on Tuesday.

Pierre Kraehenbuehl, director of operations at the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said fighting between insurgents and the Afghan army supported by international forces had intensified significantly in the south and east of the country since last year and was spreading to the north and west.

"Civilians suffer horribly from mounting threats to their security, such as increasing numbers of roadside bombs and suicide attacks and regular aerial bombing raids," he said in a statement.

"There is a general, spreading sense of insecurity that is felt by the local population,'" Kraehenbuehl later told reporters at a press conference in Geneva.

He said ordinary Afghans -- especially in remote areas -- also still lack access to basic services such as medical care.

"The civilians most in need are also the most difficult to reach," he said.

ICRC, which has been working in Afghanistan for 20 years, said it had become "increasingly challenging to carry out humanitarian work outside major cities."

The Geneva-based organization said it was in contact with all parties to the conflict -- which would include Taliban militants -- in order to obtain security guarantees and access throughout the country, visit detainees and raise concerns about military actions which put civilians at risk.

Referring to an incident in Helmand Province in April when dozens of civilians were reported killed by coalition forces during an operation against insurgents, Kraehenbuehl said that "clearly much more must be done to preserve and spare civilians when these types of military operations are under way."

"There was both exposure of civilians to risk by the presence of armed actors on the ground, but also concerns about the measures of precaution," he said.

Last year ICRC delegates visited more than 2,400 detainees held by Afghan or international forces to ensure they were treated in accordance with international law.

"We have not visited anybody held by the armed opposition groups, which does not mean they do not have anybody," Kraehenbuehl said.

ICRC has some 60 foreign and about 1,000 staff in Afghanistan. Last year the group spent 41 million Swiss francs (US$33 million) on its operations in the country.

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