Nato defends its role over civilian deaths in Libya

A leading human rights group has accused Nato of failing to acknowledge the deaths of at least 72 civilians it says were killed in bombing raids during the alliance's controversial air campaign in Libya last year.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has published evidence that scores of ordinary civilians, many of them women and children, were wrongly targeted in a series of missile attacks throughout last year.

In one raid, on the town of Bani Walid, 100 miles south east of Tripoli, five members of the same family were killed, including a nine-year-old girl.

In another – the worst single event uncovered by HRW – 34 people were killed when Nato jets levelled four homes in the village of Majer, to the east of the Libyan capital. HRW called on Nato to acknowledge the casualties and pay compensation to the victims.

But responding to the allegations yesterday, a Nato spokesman said the organisation had executed its bombing campaign with "unprecedented care and precision".

"Nato did everything possible to minimise risks to civilians but in a complex military campaign that risk can never be zero," said spokeswoman Oana Lungescu, who said the targets struck by Nato were "military targets".

During its investigation, which focussed on eight separate Nato attacks on towns and villages across Libya, HRW researchers spoke to dozens of witnesses who saw the deadly bombing raids.