Britain says payouts for Afghan civilian deaths treble

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Britain paid compensation for the deaths of more than 100 Afghan civilians last year, around three times the amount handed out in 2008, Ministry of Defence (MoD) records showed Thursday.

Thousands of pounds paid to people who were killed or injured in error by British forces fighting in the war-torn country were revealed in response to a request under Freedom of Information laws made by Channel 4 television news.

Military records revealed compensation was paid to relatives of at least 105 Afghan civilians killed in error by British forces in 2009, compared to 33 such payouts the previous year.

In one incident, eight people were killed last December, including four relatives of Sufi Abdullah from Babaji, in southern Helmand Province, the news channel reported.

He told Channel 4 he and his two sons and two brothers had been sitting by a river, and just moments after he left the group a rocket struck.

"When I turned I saw that my son and brother were lying on the ground, unconscious and covered in blood," he said.

Speaking through a translator in Afghan capital Kabul, he produced documents from the British army in which they agreed to pay him in February a total of around 32,000 dollars (21,400 pounds, 25,900 euros) in compensation after the four deaths.

Britain's defence ministry told Channel 4 that British troops had believed they had identified insurgents who were laying a homemade bomb in the area, and a missile was fired.

But a later investigation showed civilians were hit, said defence officials. It added the investigation found British troops acted within their rules of engagement.

The MoD said any incident involving civilian casualties was "a matter of deep regret."

"We have strict procedures intended to minimise the risk of civilian casualties and to investigate any that occur," it said in a statement.

It added that "insurgents often target civilians with their indiscriminate attacks and operate from densely populated areas in order to deliberately draw civilians into the battle."

© 2010 AFP

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