UN urges de-escalation of Afghan conflict ahead of peace talks

UNITED NATIONS, Jul 02 (APP):Amid escalating violence, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on Thursday called on the Afghan government and the Taliban to redouble efforts to protect civilians and reduce conflict ahead of the peace talks.

The intra-Afghan talks could begin sometime this month in Doha, capital of Qatar, according to UNAMA.

“It’s taken enormous work and some brave decisions for Afghans to reach the point of being on the eve of unprecedented intra-Afghan negotiations,” Deborah Lyons, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said.

UNAMA’s appeal also calls for a de-escalation of the conflict to save lives and facilitate discussions in Qatar.

It follows a recent spate of deliberate attacks against religious leaders, healthcare workers, members of the judiciary, civil society activists, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and journalists.

In the first six months of the year, more than 800 civilians were killed and injured in deliberate attacks.

UNAMA attributed responsibility for approximately half of these civilian casualties to the Taliban.

These are “shocking and criminal” attacks, UNAMA said in a statement.The Mission’s chief, Ms Lyons, meanwhile, warned against “spoilers who do not wish to see an end to war.”

“No matter what tactics they employ to de-rail the peace process, they cannot be allowed to succeed,” she insisted.

UNAMA said it remains particularly concerned by the deliberate targeting of religious leaders, with 18 incidents verified this year (six in June); healthcare personnel, with 13 incidents verified this year (two last month); judiciary members, with 11 incidents verified this year (three in June); civil society activists, with six incidents verified this year; NGOs, with five incidents verified this year (one in June); and journalists, with three incidents verified so far during 2020.

June incidents that require further verification, said the Mission, include the 22 June attack in Kabul, when armed men on a motorbike opened fire on a vehicle, killing all five passengers inside, including one prosecutor, working in the Bagram detention facility; and the 27 June incident also in the capital, when an Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission staff member and driver, were killed by an improvised device, when they were traveling to work.

The UN reiterated that attacks deliberately targeting Afghanistan’s civilian population are serious violations of international humanitarian law that may amount to war crimes.

UNAMA also drew attention to the continued harm to civilians from the use of indirect fire during ground engagements, in civilian-populated areas, that has caused roughly 25 per cent of civilian casualties in the second quarter of 2020.

The Mission’s continued call for an end to violence is also immediately linked to the need for all parties to provide the necessary focus and resources to combating the COVID-19 pandemic, “a serious threat to everyone in Afghanistan”.

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