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UN, Afghan Taliban dialogue to reduce civilian casualties

UN, Afghan Taliban dialogue to reduce civilian casualties

United Nations: The top UN official in Afghanistan said the world body has been in touch with the Taliban in an effort to reduce civilian casualties and to make them aware of their obligations under international human rights laws.

"We think it is really important to engage all parties to the conflict on the question of civilian casualties," Nicholas Haysom, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), said at a news conference here Friday.

"We have more recently engaged with the Taliban."

The UNAMA shared reports and asked the Taliban for comments in its outreach effort to the organisation, he said.

At the meetings with the Taliban that took place in Doha, he said, "We have also necessarily engaged with them on what the international human rights law framework is and what it expects from combatants."

The UN outreach to save civilians appears to be taking place despite a UN report Thursday that said the Taliban leadership seems unwilling to enter into political negotiation "in a meaningful way".

Although the "situation has not measurably improved" and the Taliban was responsible for the majority of the civilian casualties, according to Georgette Gagnon, UNAMA's Director of Human Rights, the message may be
making a dent.

"We have recently seen a change in their method of
targeting," she said.

They are "targeting more military targets, which they consider lawful, but still using tactics or means which are disproportionate or indiscriminate or killing or injuring civilians," she added.

Where there are civilian casualties, the Taliban tries to
explain them as collateral damage.

There has also been another shift.

"With the Taliban, what we have seen is a change in their messaging," she said.

"They now talk a lot more about their efforts to protect civilians. They have improved their so-called 'code of conduct.'"

Gagnon said that the UNAMA has not seen an increase in attacks on schools or schools for girls.

"There have been some isolated incidents which we and UNICEF track very closely and bring to the attention of
those involved in them."

Significantly, the Afghan Taliban, which has affiliations with its Pakistani counterpart, condemned the killing of school children in Peshawar this week.

"The intentional killing of innocent people, women and children goes against the principles of Islam and every Islamic government and movement must adhere to this
fundamental essence." the group said in a statement.

As a result of the UN efforts, Haysom said that the insurgents seemed to be developing "sensitivity" to accusations of targeting civilians, especially children.
"When there is extensive impact (from an attack) on
civilians they refuse, decline, to acknowledge ownership."

"That indicates that the message we are putting out has an impact, those who attack civilians will pay a political price."

Explaining how they built up their interaction with the Taliban, Haysom said they shared reports of incidents with them and asked for their comments.

"Their initial response had been largely to reject the report and to claim that it was inaccurate," he said.

But the UNAMA shared with the Taliban their methodology and asked them about incidents which they feel have not been reported and show them their concerns were being

"We have also necessarily engaged with them on what the international human rights law framework is and what it expects from combatants," Haysom added.

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