KABUL – Civilian casualties in Afghanistan have risen sharply after the start of peace talks last year, the United Nations said in a report on Tuesday, calling for a ceasefire as negotiators meet for the first time times after weeks of inaction.
The US-brokered peace talks began in September, but progress has since slowed and violence has escalated with uncertainty over whether international forces will withdraw their troops by May as originally planned.
Civilian casualties were 8,820 in 2020, according to the annual report of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). That was 15% lower than the year before, but the report’s authors noted with concern a sharp rise and historically high civilian casualties in the last three months of 2020, when peace talks began.
Last year “could have been the year of peace in Afghanistan. Instead, thousands of Afghan civilians perished,” said Deborah Lyons, head of UNAMA, reiterating her calls for a ceasefire. fire that was repeatedly rejected by the Taliban. “Parties that refuse to consider a ceasefire must recognize the devastating consequences.”
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The Taliban released a critical response to the report on Tuesday, saying “the concerns, specific information and specific details we shared have not been addressed.”
The report says that for the first time since records began, deaths and injuries have worsened in the last three months of the year compared to the previous three months. Losses in the fourth quarter increased 45% compared to the same period in 2019.
The majority went to non-state actors, mainly the insurgent Taliban, and more than a fifth went to government forces.
A government spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The two sides said on Twitter that their chief negotiators met in Doha, the venue for negotiations, on Monday evening, adding that the teams would continue to work on an agenda.
After a month-long hiatus over the New Year period, negotiators returned briefly to Doha before many senior Taliban leaders left to hold meetings in Russia and Iran. Mujahid said they would hold more meetings soon.
Zabihullah said the lull was just a hiatus and the Taliban were committed to talks, with more meetings expected in the coming days.