UN blames Afghan security forces for death of 23 civilians in mortar fire
Kabul, Jun 30 (efe-epa).- The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on Tuesday denounced the death of multiple civilians, numbering 23 according to local authorities, in a bombing in the southern Helmand province and attributed it to the Afghan security forces
“UNAMA’s initial impartial findings indicate Afghan National Army mortars inflicted heavy civilian casualties Monday at market in #Sangin #Afghanistan” the UN agency said in a statement.
The UNAMA said that “multiple credible sources” had informed it that the Afghan forces had responded to Taliban fire on Monday by launching mortars, but missed their target and hit a cattle market where dozens of farmers had gathered.
The Afghan defense ministry had said on Monday that at least 23 civilians were killed and 15 were injured in the incident, which they had blamed on the Taliban.
According to the government version of events, Taliban fired rockets and detonated a car bomb at the cattle market, while authorities denied that security forces had used mortar fire.
However, based on its preliminary findings the UNAMA has urged the government to set up an independent investigation team to probe the incident.
“UNAMA is prepared to assist all parties, the victims and their families in establishing the facts” the mission said, adding that the final casualty count from the incident was still being verified.
“Both parties must stop fighting in civilian-populated areas. Such indirect fire incidents in ground engagements cause 1000s of civilian casualties each year” the UN body concluded in its note.
An Afghan military spokesperson in Helmand, Abdul Qadeer Bahadarzai, stuck to the official version of events but promised an independent probe.
“We still defend our yesterday’s statement, but we welcome and will assist any investigation delegation to investigate the attack,” Bahadarzai told EFE.
The Taliban had blamed the bombing on the Afghan army soon after the incident on Monday.
The group’s spokesperson Zabihullah Mujahid told EFE on Tuesday that he agreed with the UNAMA about the need for an independent probe and offered to collaborate and provide protection to the investigation team.
“If such attacks and violations are not investigated and the criminals not identified, (the attacks) may be repeated again and again, taking the lives of civilians,” he said.
Violence between the Afghan security forces and the Taliban is on the rise again after a brief three-day ceasefire in May on the occasion of the Eid-al-Fitr festival – marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan – which was followed by a period of relative calm. EFE-EPA