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Taliban talks urged by Afghans

Lawmakers seek end to fighting

An Afghan man who was allegedly wounded by US airstrikes yesterday is seen in a rescue vehicle in Helmand province, south of Kabul. At least 21 civilians were killed. (ABDUL KHALEQ/ASSOCIAAATED PRESS)

KABUL, Afghanistan -- Lawmakers angered by mounting civilian deaths have sent a sharp warning to US and NATO commanders, passing a motion for a military cease-fire and negotiations with the Taliban.

The resolution, which NATO labeled "a warning shot" across its own bow, came as reports emerged yesterday of 21 villagers killed in airstrikes -- a toll that a Taliban spokesman said the militia would avenge.

The proposal from the upper house of parliament, which also calls for a date to be set for the withdrawal of foreign troops, suggests that Afghan support for the 5 1/2-year international military mission is crumbling amid a series of civilian deaths.

The motion reflects lawmakers' belief that negotiations with militants would be more effective than fighting, said Aminuddin Muzafari, the secretary of the upper house.

"One of the reasons I want this bill implemented is because of the civilian deaths caused by both the enemy and international forces," said Abdul Ahmad Zahidi, a parliamentarian from Ghazni province.

"It's difficult to prevent civilian deaths when the Taliban go inside the homes of local people. How can you prevent casualties then? You can't."

Parliament's lower house and President Hamid Karzai must endorse the proposal for it to become law. Presidential officials were not available for comment yesterday. However, Karzai has repeatedly said he is open to talks with Taliban.

The resolution passed Tuesday, hours before US special forces battling insurgents in Helmand province called in a series of airstrikes.

The US-led coalition said it destroyed "three enemy command and control compounds" near Sangin, a militant hotbed in the heart of Afghanistan's biggest opium poppy region that has seen heavy fighting this year.

The coalition said a "significant" number of militants died in the 16-hour battle, which pitted insurgents against US and Afghan government troops. One coalition soldier also died.

However, Helmand Governor Assadullah Wafa said militants had sought shelter in Afghan homes and that the air strikes had killed at least 21 civilians.

Neither account could be independently verified. The incident is just the latest in a string of operations in which Afghans have lamented civilian casualties.

While a majority of civilian deaths over the years have been caused by Taliban attacks, fatalities caused by international forces have enraged villagers and sparked angry protests around Afghanistan in recent weeks.

On Tuesday, the US military apologized and paid compensation to the families of 19 people killed and 50 wounded by Marines Special Forces who fired on civilians after a March suicide attack in eastern Afghanistan.