By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia's U.N. envoy on Monday demanded there be a thorough investigation of civilians killed in NATO air strikes during its military operations in Libya, which led to the ouster and death of former leader Muammar Gaddafi.
Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was reacting to news reports about civilian deaths caused by NATO. Reuters reported on Friday that human rights groups estimated over 50 civilians were killed by the air strikes, while the New York Times published on Sunday an estimate of 40 to over 70.
Churkin told reporters the NATO alliance has so far failed to provide the U.N. Security Council with details about civilian casualties.
"Unfortunately NATO adopted a pure propaganda stand, claiming zero civilian casualties in Libya, which was completely implausible, first of all, and, secondly, not true," he said.
Churkin said he would raise the issue in the 15-nation Security Council on Thursday.
"We hope that NATO is going to revisit this entire problem, is going to investigate this matter," he said, adding that the United Nations could help with the investigation.
Churkin also criticized U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for suggesting last week that NATO had fully complied with its U.N. Security Council mandate to protect civilians in Libya.
"We expect the (U.N.) secretariat to be more careful when it passes its judgment on very important issues which the Security Council is dealing with," he said.
After abstaining from a March 17 vote on U.N. Security Council resolution 1973, which authorized U.N. member states to enforce a no-fly zone and use "all necessary measures" to protect Libyan civilians, Russia and China repeatedly accused NATO of overstepping its mandate by seeking to oust Gaddafi.
NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said last week that the alliance had no figures for civilian casualties its bombing campaign may have caused but took "every possible precaution to minimize the possibility of civilian casualties."
She said it was impossible to entirely remove the risk to civilians but the alliance "deeply regrets any loss of civilian life and if there is credible evidence it is for the Libyan authorities to take the lead in dealing with any such claim."
Libyan U.N. envoy Ibrahim Dabbashi told Reuters last week he saw no need for a NATO investigation. He said that more than 40,000 Libyans died in the civil war and that a few civilian casualties due to the NATO attacks, however unfortunate, were inevitable.