KABUL — Three Afghan civilians were shot dead and three wounded when a French soldier opened fire on their vehicle in Kapisa province, north of the capital, the French military and the Afghan presidency said.

The incident happened late Tuesday night when the driver of the car approached a French military convoy and failed to stop despite requests, said the French military's spokesman in Kabul, Lieutenant Colonel Eric de Lapresle.

"A night mounted patrol found itself blocked by an obstacle in the road. A soldier in the last vehicle saw a car coming and motioned him to stop with a green laser. The car did not stop and a soldier opened fire," he said.

The dead were one woman, a man and a child, and one woman and two men were wounded, he said. The presidency said the woman who was killed had been pregnant.

"The French army recognises its responsibility in this tragedy," said Lapresle, adding that an investigation was underway to determine the exact circumstances.

He said the French military had met with local authorities on Wednesday over the deaths, while two of the wounded had been taken to a French-run medical facility in Kabul and the third was being treated at a military base in Nijrad in Kapisa.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai "strongly condemned" the attack that took place in the Alasau district of the eastern province.

"NATO forces opened fire on a car that was moving towards them, thinking it was a suicide car," said his statement.

It said that the French ambassador in Kabul had called the presidential palace to officially apologise.

"The president asked NATO forces to protect civilian lives and not to allow innocent people to be killed every day as a result of their repeated mistakes," Karzai's statement said.

Violence against civilians is at a record-high in the war, with more than 1,400 Afghan civilians killed in the conflict this year, up 15 percent on the first half of 2010, according to a recently released United Nations report.

According to the UN, NATO and Afghan forces are responsible for 14 percent of civilian casualties with 80 percent due to the insurgents.

Tuesday's incident comes after a suicide attack in the Tagab valley of Kapisa killed five French soldiers on July 13.