New York, NY (BBN)- The top United Nations human rights official has called for ensuring the protection of Afghan civilians, as new figures show an almost 40 per cent increase in conflict-related deaths in the first eight months of 2008 compared to the same period last year.

The human rights unit of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) recorded a total of 1,445 civilian casualties in the first eight months of this year, an increase of 39 per cent compared to the same period in 2007, when there were 1,040 deaths, according to a UN press statement.

“I call on all parties to the conflict to respect international humanitarian law, and to ensure every effort is made to avoid the killing of civilians,” said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay.

While the number of killings by the Taliban and other anti-government forces almost doubled by comparison with the first eight months of 2007, the numbers killed by government and international military forces also increasing substantially, according to Ms. Pillay’s office.

Last month was among the most deadly, with 330 civilians killed, including up to 92 deaths reported during an operation involving Afghan and international military forces in Shindand, as well as the killing of four non-governmental (NGO) workers by the Taliban on 13 August, in Logar province, the statement added.

BBN/SI/SS/AD-17September08-12:08 AM