NATO has failed to properly investigate or provide compensation for civilian deaths caused by its air strikes during the seven-month operation in Libya that helped bring about the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi, Amnesty International said on Monday.

Echoing similar criticisms aired this month by Russia, Amnesty said scores of Libyans who were not involved in the conflict had been killed or injured in NATO bombings but there had been no legitimate investigations.

NATO officials repeatedly stressed their commitment to protecting civilians, Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Adviser at Amnesty, said in a statement.

They cannot now brush aside the deaths of scores of civilians with some vague statement of regret without properly investigating these deadly incidents.

Inquiries should determine whether any civilian casualties resulted from a breach of international law, and if so, those responsible should be brought to justice, Amnesty said.

The NATO military mission, authorised by the United Nations Security Council, began on March 31 last year with the aim of protecting civilians under attack or threat of attack.

NATO forces carried out some 26,000 sorties including some 9,600 strike missions and destroyed about 5,900 targets before operations ended on October 31.

PRECAUTIONS

Investigators for the U.N. Human Rights Council concluded earlier this month that NATO had caused civilian deaths but had taken extensive precautions to ensure civilians were not killed.

Amnesty agreed NATO had made significant efforts to minimise the risk of civilian casualties, through precision bombing and warning where strikes would occur.

However, the rights group said that did not release NATO from the responsibility to carry out investigations into any deaths, or making reparations to victims or families of those killed.

Survivors and victims' relatives interviewed by Amnesty said they had never been contacted by NATO.

Amnesty had documented 55 cases of civilians, including 16 children and 14 women, being killed in air strikes in Tripoli, Zlitan, Majer, Sirte and Brega, often in private homes with no clear evidence of any military purpose.

Of those, 34 people, including eight children, were killed in three separate attacks on two houses in Majer with no explanation for why they were targeted, Amnesty said.

NATO's most recent response to Amnesty stated it deeply regretted any harm its air strikes had caused but said it no longer had a mandate to carry out any activities in Libya.

In a statement on Monday, NATO noted that the U.N.-mandated International Commission of Inquiry on Libya had found that NATO had conducted a highly precise campaign with a demonstrable determination to avoid civilian casualties.

NATO has looked into each credible allegation of harm to civilians which has been brought to our attention and will continue to do so, said spokeswoman Oana Lungescu.

This involves an assessment of all NATO records, from target selection to any other data gathered following the strike. This review process has confirmed that the specific targets struck by NATO were legitimate military targets, selected in a manner consistent with the UN mandate.

Regarding the suggestion that NATO should further investigate, it is important to note that NATO did not have observers on the ground during (the) operation and has received no mandate to conduct activities in Libya following the conclusion of our operation, she added in a statement.

Two weeks ago, Russia criticised U.N. investigators for failing to adequately probe civilian deaths caused by NATO during last year's uprising, saying children and journalists had been killed.

In our view, during that (NATO) campaign many violations of the standard of international law and human rights were committed, including the most important right, the right to life, said Maria Khodynskaya-Golenishcheva, a diplomat at the Russian mission to the United Nations in Geneva.

Russia had criticised NATO action which it said should have been limited to protecting civilians and not helping the overthrow of Gaddafi.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)