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Afghan Taliban reject U.N. report on civilian deaths

KABUL (Reuters) - The Taliban on Wednesday branded as “fabricated” the latest U.N. report on civilian casualties in Afghanistan that blamed insurgents for three-quarters of those killed and wounded in the first 10 months of 2010.

In a quarterly report on Afghanistan this month, the United Nations said civilian casualties had risen by 20 percent between January 1 and October 31 this year compared with same period in 2009.

It said there were 6,215 civilian casualties from conflict-related incidents, including 2,412 deaths and 3,803 injuries, over the period and that “anti-government elements” had been responsible for 76 percent.

The U.N. report also found that those attributed to foreign and Afghan forces accounted for 12 percent of total civilian casualties, an 18 percent drop on the same period last year.

Afghanistan’s Taliban, however, rejected the U.N. findings as at attempt to cover up U.S. “brutalities” and described it as “partial, one-sided and influenced by U.S. politics.”

“The Islamic Emirate considers the latest United Nations report as a self-fabricated figure and believes that this is also a propagandist effort for covering the American brutalities like the past nine years in Afghanistan,” the Taliban said in a statement emailed to media.

It said the report would only mislead those who knew nothing about Afghanistan and would damage the U.N.’s reputation.

Insurgent suicide attacks and homemade bombs caused 998 deaths -- 55 percent of the total attributed to the militants -- and wounded 2,062 civilians -- 70 percent of the total attributed to insurgents, the U.N. report found.

Of the 742 civilian casualties attributed to pro-government forces, air strikes caused the largest number, including 162 deaths and 120 injuries, it said.

Civilian casualties caused by U.S. and other foreign forces have long been a source of friction between the Afghan government and its Western backers, and military commanders have sought to tighten engagement rules, including the use of air strikes.

On Tuesday, NATO-led forces said they were investigating whether their troops had inadvertently killed five civilians after coming under attack in southern Helmand province.

Violence across Afghanistan is at its worst since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001, with military and civilian casualties at record levels despite the presence of about 150,000 foreign troops. (Editing by Paul Tait and Ron Popeski)