- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

NEW YORK A leaked U.N. report claiming that U.S. soldiers attempted to "sanitize" the site of an Afghan wedding party accidentally bombed by U.S. forces last month embarrassed U.N. officials, who yesterday tried to downplay its findings.
The Pentagon, meanwhile, denied there was a coverup, but U.S. officials declined to comment on the specific accusations in the report compiled immediately after the June 30 incident. According to the Afghan authorities, the attack killed at least 48 persons and injured nearly 120.
A "first version" of the report apparently was leaked to the Times of London, which published it in its Monday edition. It was compiled by Kandahar-based U.N. humanitarian workers and local Afghan authorities and found "discrepancies" in American accounts of the events, specifically about the fire that U.S. authorities claimed came from the area.
According to the Times, the report also charges that U.S. soldiers arrived in the village shortly after the bombing to "clean the area" by removing evidence of "shrapnel, bullets and traces of blood." The paper also quotes the U.N. document as saying that women's hands had been bound.
U.N. officials in Kabul, Afghanistan, and New York yesterday refused to confirm the substance of the Times account and tried to downplay the early findings.
"It was not supposed to be issued, because the findings are not comprehensive and they are not conclusive," said David Singh, the Kabul-based spokesman for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). "We would rather have preferred to issue it once."
He said that after the air strikes, UNAMA dispatched a team to assess the humanitarian effect of the bombings on the people of Uruzgan. The group arrived in the region July 2 to see what kind of damage had been wrought and to determine what emergency measures would be necessary, Mr. Singh said.
He noted that the United Nations does not have a mandate to "evaluate" U.S. air strikes, only to provide humanitarian assistance to the people of Afghanistan.
"A report leaked it shouldn't have been leaked. The findings were preliminary, not substantiated, and we are sure to make a statement when we are sure of everything," said Mr. Singh, who denied that the organization was second-guessing the air strikes.
UNAMA was forced to issue a statement yesterday stressing that a "quick preliminary report" was assembled but required further substantiation.
"There were facts in it that were not adequately substantiated," said Fred Eckhard, the U.N. spokesman in New York. He said that the U.N. special representative in Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, "asked them to produce a more detailed report, which they have done. The whole point was to make this a more responsible document than the one that initially returned from this fact-finding team."
Mr. Eckhard denied that the findings would be whitewashed to make them more palatable to the United States, whose political, military and financial support is vital to establishing security and stability in Afghanistan.
The final report, approved by Mr. Brahimi, could be released as early as today.
The Pentagon said yesterday that it is still conducting an investigation to determine exactly what happened on June 30, when U.S. bombers strafed villages in central Afghanistan, killing a large number of women and children. More than a dozen of the dead were family members celebrating a wedding.

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