May 1, 2010 / 1:39 PM / in 9 years

NATO checks report of Afghan civilian deaths

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - NATO said on Saturday it was investigating whether shots fired by its troops in southern Afghanistan had killed two women and a child traveling in car.

A spokesman for the governor of Zabul province said the passengers were shot Friday while driving toward a roadblock where a combined group of NATO and Afghan troops were trying to disable a roadside bomb.

The NATO alliance said it was aware of a similar incident, but that its preliminary reporting showed only warning shots had been fired and the car was not hit. It had sent a team to investigate.

The Zabul governor’s spokesman, Mohammad Jan Rasulyar, said authorities were still trying to determine whether the bullets that killed the passengers had been fired by foreign troops or Afghans. Two men were also wounded, he said.

A spokesman for NATO’s U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force, Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Vician, said troops had reported stopping to assist Afghan police clearing a bomb, and firing warning shots when a vehicle approached.

In the troops’ account, the driver stopped, got out of the car, spoke to Afghan police and then drove away, Vician said.

The investigation would try to explain the differences in the two accounts, he added.

Civilian deaths caused by NATO troops are an emotive issue in Afghanistan and a major source of friction between the foreign forces and the population their mission is to protect.

The U.S. and NATO commander, General Stanley McChrystal has ordered changes in rules to reduce killings, but recent weeks have seen a spate of so-called “escalation of force” incidents, in which troops open fire at vehicles that approach them.

In the past two weeks, troops killed four civilians in a passenger car in Khost province, and killed four people and wounded 18 others after firing on a bus in Kandahar province.

The United Nations mission in Afghanistan, which has praised McChrystal for reducing civilian deaths over the past year, described the recent spate of killings as a “disturbing trend.”

Reporting by Ismail Sameem in Kandahar and Peter Graff in Kabul; Writing by Peter Graff, Editing by Lin Noueihed

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