UN rights boss concerned over Iraq "wedding" strike.

The top United Nations human rights official voiced concern on Friday over a U.S. air strike in Iraq which killed about 40 people near the Syrian border, saying security fears were "no licence to commit carnage".

In a statement, Bertrand Ramcharan, acting U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed shock over the deaths of "some 40 civilians at a wedding party" near Qaim on Wednesday.

The U.S. military said it had attacked a "suspected foreign fighter safe house" near the Syrian border, killing around 40 people. But witnesses said the victims were celebrating a wedding.

In Baghdad, U.S. military spokesman Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt told a news conference the military was investigating reports that those killed were at a wedding, and that four to six of the dead were women.

Ramcharan said it was the occupying forces' responsibility to ensure the safety of Iraqi civilians and to "refrain from excessive use of force and indiscriminate attacks".

"The acting High Commissioner calls upon all belligerents to respect human rights and humanitarian law, and to demonstrate at all times paramount concern for the safety and protection of civilians. He reiterates that even if there are security-related concerns, there can be no licence to commit carnage," he said.

Ramcharan has ordered a U.N. report into the human rights situation in Iraq over the past year, which is due by the end a month.

[Source: ONU, Reuters, Geneva, 21May04]

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