Feb 23, 2021 15:55 UTC
  • UN concerned at surge in civilian casualties as Taliban, govt. resume peace talks in Doha

The United Nations (UN) says civilian casualties in Afghanistan have seen a sharp rise since US-brokered intra-Afghan peace talks began last year.

Civilian casualties numbered at 8,820 last years, said the UN mission to Afghanistan (UNAMA) in an annual report on Tuesday.

That was 15% lower than the previous year, but the report found a sharp uptick and historically high civilian casualties in the final three months of 2020, when the peace talks began.

Casualties for the fourth quarter were up 45% compared with the same period in 2019, said the report.

The majority of the casualties were attributed to non-government actors, predominately the Taliban, and more than one-fifth were ascribed to government forces.

Last year “could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished,” said Deborah Lyons, the head of UNAMA.

“Parties refusing to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences,” she said.

Later in the day, the Taliban responded to her remarks by saying that “the concerns, precise information, and accurate details that were shared by us have not been taken into account.”

After a month-long break over the new year period, the Kabul government and the Taliban announced that their chief negotiators had returned to peace talks in the Qatari capital, Doha, on Monday.

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said that the meeting was focused on the continuation of the talks.

The meeting was held a day after the head of the Afghan High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah, called on the Taliban to return to the negotiating table and resume talks.

Abdullah had also held talks with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Sunday about the negotiations.

“Ceasefire is the main demand of Afghans and the continuation of violence is taking lives of people every day,” Abdullah said.

While the Taliban demand a power-sharing deal with Kabul, President Ashraf Ghani said earlier this week that he will not allow “an interim government while I am alive.”

Meanwhile, sources close to the Taliban said that the group’s distance from the peace talks was in part due to uncertainty over the withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan.