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UPDATED: 09:02, June 27, 2007
Dutch minister rejects Afghan criticism on civilian casualties
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Dutch Defense Minister Eimert van Middelkoop has rejected criticism by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that Dutch troops have killed civilians with their artillery strikes, Dutch newspapers reported Tuesday.

Van Middelkoop said Monday that the cannons fired by the Dutch troops were precision weapons aimed at specific targets. He also criticized the Afghans for not deploying any troops of their own.

Last weekend Karzai lashed out at the NATO troops -- mainly Dutch troops -- who had been engaged in heavy fighting with the Taliban in Chora in the southern province of Uruzgan.

He contended that 52 civilians were killed during the fighting in mid-June: "You don't win a war by firing an armored howitzer at a distance of 37 kilometers," he was quoted as saying.

"Afghan life is not cheap and should not be treated as such," he said.

Van Middelkoop confirmed that the Dutch troops did fire artillery from their base, but stressed the howitzers are precision weapons. "President Karzai may possibly not be aware of the latest technological developments," he said.

The Dutch minister said Karzai should not complain about civilian casualties while he himself failed to deliver the promised units on the ground. The failure is making it much more difficult for the Dutch troops to improve the situation in Uruzgan, van Middelkoop said.

On Monday, van Middelkoop and General Dick Berlijn, the chief of staff of the Dutch armed forces, told the Dutch parliament that Dutch soldiers, Western allies and Afghan security troops killed 50 to 70 enemy fighters during the battle for the town of Chora.

The number of civilian dead is estimated at between 30 and 70. According to Berlijn, these casualties include women who had their throats cut by Taliban fighters and men who were forced to fight alongside the Taliban.

Source: Xinhua

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