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UN: Afghan Civilian Deaths Down, But More Wounded

Relatives and residents carry a coffin for burial of one of the victims of a suicide attack in Asadabad, the capital of Kunar Province, on February 27.

The United Nations has reported 600 civilian deaths in Afghanistan in the first quarter of this year -- down 13 percent from the first three months of 2015.

The latest figures released by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) on April 17 also showed that the number of civilian injuries was 11 percent higher to 1,343 during the same period.

The report said intensified fighting in populated areas caused a 29 percent increase in child casualties and a 5 percent increase in casualties among women.

Danielle Bell, UNAMA’s human rights director, says women and children have borne the brunt of the violence.

"In the first quarter of 2016, almost one-third of civilian casualties were children," Bell says in the report.

"If the fighting persists near schools, playgrounds, homes, and clinics, and parties continue to use explosive weapons in those areas ... these appalling numbers of children killed and maimed will continue."

UNAMA estimates that 60 percent of casualties were caused by anti-government forces but noted a jump in those caused by security forces using explosive weapons like mortars and grenades.

Militants have denied previous allegations of targeting and killing civilians.

"Even if a conflict intensifies, it does not have to be matched by corresponding civilian suffering provided parties take their international humanitarian law and human rights obligations seriously," Nicholas Haysom, the UN envoy to Afghanistan, said in a statement.

"Failure to respect humanitarian obligations will result in more suffering in a nation that has suffered enough," he added.

Last year, there were 11,002 civilian casualties, including 3,545 deaths, according to UN figures released in February.

The figures come days after the Taliban announced the start of its annual spring offensive.

Civilian casualties are expected continue to rise in the months ahead as the Taliban intensify their operations against government forces in the warmer months.

With reporting by AP and AFP