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The number of civilians killed in Afghanistan has dropped for the first time in six years, but the number of injured has increased, according to a United Nations report on civilian casualties.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (Unama) documented 2,754 civilian deaths in 2012, a 12 percent drop, and 4,805 injuries, a slight rise.

"Unama documented a 12 per cent drop in civilian deaths and a marginal increase in civilian injuries compared with 2011. Unama recorded 7,559 civilian casualties - 2,754 civilian deaths and 4,805 civilian injuries - in 2012. Over the past six years, 14,728 Afghan civilians have lost their lives in the conflict," it said in a statement released Tuesday.

The reduction was attributed to less fighting on the ground and a decline in suicide attacks and air operations. But the report also expressed concern about the re-emergence of armed groups, particularly in Afghanistan's north.

"The decrease in civilian casualties Unama documented in 2012 is very much welcome. Yet, the human cost of the conflict remains unacceptable," said Ján Kubiš, United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan.

"Indiscriminate and unlawful use of improvised explosive devices by Anti-Government Elements remains the single biggest killer of civilians. Steep increases in the deliberate targeting of civilians perceived to be supporting the Government demonstrates another grave violation of international humanitarian law. Particularly appalling is the use of suicide attacks including those carried out by brainwashed children to murder civilians which is also a clear breach of the norms of Islam," he said in the statement.

The report said civilians are facing an increase in threats, intimidation and interference with their rights to education, health, justice and freedom of movement from militants, it added.

In total, 81 percent of civilian casualties in 2012 were attributed to militants, while 8 percent resulted from operations by pro-government forces.

It also noted that women and girls "continued to suffer enormously from the effects of armed conflict", with 301 killed and 563 injured - an increase of 20 percent.

"It is the tragic reality that most Afghan women and girls were killed or injured while engaging in their everyday activities," said Georgette Gagnon, Unama's director of human rights.

The report said improvised explosive devices (IEDs) planted by insurgents were the greatest threat to civilians, causing 868 deaths and 1,663 injuries. Targeted killings by militants also increased by 108 percent, with 698 people killed and 379 hurt.

"Unama notes numerous Taliban statements in 2012 to protect civilians. Yet, the situation on the ground has not improved. The Taliban increased their direct attacks on civilians through targeted killings and continued to indiscriminately use IEDs," the agency said.

The report said 316 civilians were killed and 271 hurt by pro-government forces, a 46 percent decrease from 2011. Casualties from aerial operations by international military forces in Afghanistan also decreased by 42 percent, with 126 deaths and 78 injuries documented.

"While fewer Afghan civilians were killed in the armed conflict in 2012, conflict-related violence continued to seriously threaten the lives and well-being of thousands of Afghan children, women and men," Gagnon said. "This situation demands even greater commitment and redoubled efforts to protect Afghan civilians in 2013 and beyond."

Over the past six years, 14,728 Afghan civilians have died in the violence of the war.

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