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Ceasefire call with Taliban shows anger over civilian toll

AFGHANISTAN: Afghan lawmakers angered by mounting civilian deaths have sent a sharp warning to U.S. and NATO commanders, passing a motion for a military cease-fire and negotiations with the Taliban.

The resolution, which NATO labeled “a warning shot” across its own bow, came as reports emerged Wednesday of 21 villagers killed in airstrikes, including several women and children.

The proposal from the upper house of parliament, which also calls for a date to be set for the withdrawal of foreign troops, suggests that Afghan support for the five-and-a-half-year-old international military mission is crumbling amid a spate of civilian deaths.

“One of the reasons I want this bill implemented is because of the civilian deaths caused by both the enemy and international forces,” said Abdul Ahmad Zahidi, a parliamentarian from Ghazni province.

“It’s difficult to prevent civilian deaths when the Taliban go inside the homes of local people. How can you prevent casualties then? You can’t.” Parliament’s lower house and President Hamid Karzai must endorse the proposal for it to become law. Presidential officials were not available for comment Wednesday.

However, Karzai has repeatedly said he is open to talks with Taliban. The resolution passed Tuesday, hours before U.S. special forces battling insurgents in Helmand province called in a series of airstrikes.

The U.S.-led coalition said it destroyed “three enemy command and control compounds” near Sangin, a militant hotbed in the heart of Afghanistan’s biggest opium poppy region that has seen heavy fighting this year.

The coalition said a “significant” number of militants died in the 16-hour battle, which pitted insurgents against U.S. and Afghan government troops. One coalition soldier also died.

However, Helmand Gov. Assadullah Wafa said militants had sought shelter in Afghan homes and the airstrikes killed at least 21 civilians.

Neither account could be independently verified.

On Tuesday, the U.S. military apologized and paid compensation to the families of 19 people killed and 50 wounded by Marines Special Forces who fired on civilians after a suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan in March.

“We don’t want their money and apologies,” said Haji Lawania, who was injured in the incident and whose father and nephew were killed. The U.S. military also says it is looking into reports from Afghan officials that 51 civilians died in airstrikes and fighting in the western province of Herat last month.

According to an Associated Press tally based on reports from Afghan and Western officials, 238 civilians have been killed by violence this year, including at least 102 blamed on NATO or the U.S.-led coalition. Those numbers do not include the 21 reported killed Tuesday.

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