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U.N. Condemns Mounting Civilian Deaths In Libya

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LIBYA
MAHMUD TURKIA/AFP/Getty Images

The United Nations is growing increasingly vocal in its concerns about civilian casualties and other collateral damage in the ongoing conflict in Libya.

On Thursday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon offered some of his strongest remarks yet on the subject, saying through a spokesperson that he was "deeply concerned by reports of the unacceptably large number of civilian casualties."

"The Secretary-General calls on all parties to exercise extreme caution in their actions, in order to minimize any further loss of civilian life," the statement said.

Ban's remarks came just a few days after another U.N. official strongly condemned a controversial NATO airstrike targeting the headquarters of Libyan State TV, in an attack that Libyan officials say resulted in the deaths of journalists and civilians.

"I deplore the NATO strike on Al-Jamahiriya and its installations," UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova said on Monday.

"Media outlets should not be targeted in military actions," she said. "U.N. Security Council Resolution 1738 (2006) condemns acts of violence against journalists and media personnel in conflict situations."

There have been growing calls for caution from the NATO-led military mission in Libya, with some observers saying that the allegedly high numbers of civilian casualties are both damaging to the mission and, possibly, in contravention of the original U.N. no-fly zone resolution.

"It's quite clear that the NATO bombing has repeatedly violated the U.N. mandate," said Hugh Roberts, who until recently ran the North Africa project for the International Crisis Group. "They are killing civilians rather than preventing civilian deaths."

"It's very hard to defend [Libyan leader Moammar] Gaddafi, but good people -- doctors, kids -- are being killed by these attacks, and they have to stop," said Karim Mezran, a Libyan professor of Middle East Studies at Johns Hopkins University.

"I saw Libyan TV recently, and they showed a NATO bombing of a hospital, showed doctors covered by debris, nurses crying out 'Benghazi, come see what is happening here,'" Mezran added, referring to the city in Eastern Libya where the anti-Gaddafi rebels are based. "Of course they are using it for propaganda, which is to be expected, but with every victim there is more hate, more rage, and more distance between the parties. NATO should stop bombing and try to force the regime to get down to negotiations as soon as possible."

One such incident occurred early in the week near the Libyan town of Zlitan, where the Gaddafi regime claimed that a NATO airstrike resulted in the deaths of 85 civilians, including children. Amnesty International has called for NATO to conduct an investigation into the reports.

NATO officials have repeatedly refuted the Gaddafi regime's claims of civilian deaths.

“The allegation of civilian casualties made by the Qaddafi regime was not corroborated by available factual information at the site,” NATO press officer Tony White told Fox News about the Zlitan attack. “The strikes which took place on Monday were conducted following clear intelligence that former farm buildings were being used as a staging point for pro-Qaddafi forces to conduct attacks against the people of Libya and the likelihood of civilians in the nearby vicinity was low. As such, the facilities were a legitimate military target.”

In a follow up to the Secretary-General's remarks, Farhan Haq, a spokesperson for the organization, added Friday that Ban "of course recognizes and appreciates NATO's efforts to avoid civilian casualties."

"He strongly believes there can be no military solution to the Libyan crisis, and he is troubled that there has been no progress in the efforts to find a politically negotiated solution," Haq went on. "He certainly urges all Libyan parties to engage with his Special Envoy to end the bloodshed as soon as possible.

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