Compensation for Afghan victims
Kabul - Relatives of 17 people killed in a shooting rampage by a US soldier in southern Afghanistan have been paid tens of thousands of dollars in compensation, Afghan government officials said on Sunday.
The families of the dead received 2.3 million Afghanis ($46 000) each while the injured were paid 500 000 Afghanis at a private ceremony at the Kandahar provincial governor's office, the officials told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The killings - mostly of women and children - in Panjwai district are thought to be the deadliest crime by a US soldier during the decade-long conflict and have tested Washington and Kabul's already tense relationship to the limit.
The funds were provided by the US military, the officials said, adding that American officers, local government leaders and tribal elders were present at the event on Saturday.
Local government officials in Kandahar declined to comment.
In Kabul a spokesperson for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force declined to confirm any payment had been made.
"As a matter of policy ISAF does not make restitution for losses resulting from combat, combat-related activities or operational necessity," he said.
But he added: "Individual troop-contributing nations may participate in some form of restitution consistent with the cultural norms of Afghanistan."
Such payments are normally kept confidential, he added.
Fears had been expressed that if the families received compensation they could be targeted by Taliban militants who consistently threaten anyone who receives money from the United States or other foreign forces in Afghanistan.
Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, 38, of the US 2nd Battalion, 3rd Infantry Regiment, has been charged with 17 premeditated murders and six counts of assault and attempted murder in connection with the massacre earlier this month.
Responding to the charges, a spokesperson for Afghan President Hamid Karzai said: "We want justice and we want it as soon as possible," although a spokesperson for Bales's home base said it was likely to be 18-24 months until any trial.