United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson called on Friday for a suspension of air strikes against Afghanistan in order to provide aid to civilians before the onset of winter.

Speaking on Irish state radio, she said the situation for civilians in Afghanistan was "desperate."

"This is the real wish of the humanitarian agencies...the desperate urgency now is to use this window until about the 15th or 16th of November when the winter snows will prevent access and the people will freeze and starve to death because they will have neither food nor shelter," she said.

"We must have a pause in order to enable huge humanitarian access and to allow a number of Afghans to come across the borders," she said.

The United States carried out a fifth wave of air strikes overnight in an assault against the hardline Taliban for its refusal to surrender Saudi-born Osama bin Laden, the prime suspect in the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington.

Robinson, a former president of Ireland, said there was an opportunity to save many lives, but time was of the essence.

"All I can say is there is a desperate situation for hundreds of thousands -- perhaps up to two million -- of the Afghan civilian population who desperately need food," she said.

"It is absolutely wrong that 6,000 people were killed in the terrible events of September 11 but equally we must have regard for the population in Afghanistan," she added.

Robinson said it was also important that military attacks be confined to targets that did not put civilians at risk.

Asked whether she was happy that this was the case at present, she said: "It's very hard to tell, we don't have much access."



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