January 13, 2010 / 10:20 AM / 9 years ago

Afghans meet NATO over shots at Helmand protest

LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S. Marines met with Afghan officials in southern Afghanistan on Wednesday, a spokesman said, to soothe tensions after NATO and Afghan forces opened fire during a protest in volatile Helmand province.

Civilian deaths and injuries caused by Western and government troops are among the most sensitive issues in Afghanistan and have sparked several demonstrations in recent weeks.

Some 100 to 200 Afghans were invited into a Marine combat outpost to hold a shura — a traditional Afghan meeting — with local Marine commanders, a spokesman for U.S. troops in the area said.

Assadullah Shirzad, a provincial police chief in Helmand, also confirmed a delegation representing the provincial governor arrived in Garmsir for a shura with Marine commanders and intends to investigate whether there were civilian casualties.

A deputy provincial police chief in Helmand said on Tuesday that eight demonstrators had been killed and 13 wounded when Afghan troops in Garmsir shot demonstrators after they tried to storm a government building.

Villagers said the demonstrations were triggered by reports the foreign troops had desecrated a Koran during a raid. A spokesman for NATO forces on Wednesday strongly denied any desecration of holy books had taken place.

NATO forces have denied opening fire on civilians during the protest and said they killed only an “insurgent sniper” after he shot an Afghan official inside the main base in Garmsir.

Garmsir district is one of more peaceful districts in the south, where mostly U.S. Marines under NATO command are based.

Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in KABUL; Writing by Golnar Motevalli; Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison and Sugita Katyal

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