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UN: 2,100 civilians killed in Afghanistan in 2008
GENEVA (Reuters) - More than 2,100 civilians were killed in Afghanistan in 2008, a 40 percent rise from the previous year, the United Nations said Tuesday.
It also cited partial figures saying that the Taliban and local warlords were responsible for 1,000 out of 1,800 civilian deaths up to the end of October, mainly due to suicide bombings and improvised explosive devices.
Nearly 700 people were killed by international and Afghan forces in the same period -- including 455 who died in air strikes -- while the cause of the remaining 100 had yet to be determined, it said.
The civilian toll was established by U.N. human rights officers deployed in Afghanistan whose full report was still being finalized, according to a U.N. spokesman.
"According to U.N. figures, over 2,100 civilians were killed as a result of armed conflict in 2008, which represents an increase of about 40 percent from 2007," U.N. Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said.
The U.N. said 1,523 people were killed in 2007.
Holmes was speaking to representatives of aid donor countries in Geneva while launching an appeal for $604 million for Afghanistan for 2009.
Violence in Afghanistan has rebounded to the highest levels since the 2001 overthrow of the Taliban.
In the last year Islamist militants have regrouped and, despite the presence of nearly 70,000 international troops, increased both the scope and scale of their attacks. Air strikes which have killed civilians have provoked anger among Afghans and resentment against the presence of foreign troops.
"DIFFICULT AND DANGEROUS"
"The armed conflict is increasingly characterized by the use of suicide bombings, improvised explosive devices, kidnappings and air strikes, all of which tend to increase civilian casualties," the U.N. appeal document said, citing threats from the incursion of more foreign fighters and regional instability.
"The indications are that ... the security situation countrywide will deteriorate further and that the risk to both national and international aid workers will increase."
Aid workers have also been victims of violence, with 36 killed and 92 abducted in the first 10 months of last year, Holmes said. "It is a very difficult and dangerous context in which to operate," he said.
Forty percent of the country was now off-limits to aid workers.
"The humanitarian situation in Afghanistan is serious and it's getting worse particularly because of the escalating armed conflict and also because of the severe drought which has been raging there," Holmes said.
The U.N.'s last broad-based humanitarian appeal for Afghanistan was in 2002/03. The new appeal, which would aim to help one-third of Afghanistan's 30 million people, includes $354 million for food aid.
Afghanistan harvested only two-thirds of its annual food requirements last year because of drought, according to the U.N. appeal. "High food prices have reduced further the ability of people to buy food and have increased social tensions and instability in several provinces," it said.
(Editing by Laura MacInnis and Myra MacDonald)
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