Dozens killed in fighting as Afghan peace talks continue


Fierce fighting between Afghan forces and the Taliban killed dozens in a restive eastern province, officials said Thursday, as negotiators from both sides pushed ahead with peace talks in Qatar.

Overnight clashes erupted in three districts of Nangarhar province when Taliban fighters attacked several checkpoints of Afghan forces and pro-government militiamen, Ataullah Khogyani, spokesman for the Nangarhar governor told AFP.

He said at least 11 Afghan security personnel were killed in fighting in Hesarak, while eight pro-government militiamen were killed in Khogyani.

Khogyani said about 30 Taliban fighters died in the clashes — including some foreigners.

The hardline insurgent group has not commented on the fighting.

The latest violence comes as the Afghan government and Taliban are engaged in talks in Doha aimed at ending the long-running conflict.

Afghanistan’s acting Defence Minister Asadullah Khalid blamed the Taliban for the fighting.

“There have been no attacks from our side… The enemies continue to attack and spill the blood of Afghans,” he said at a ceremony where US forces handed over four A-29 Super Tucano aircraft to the Afghan military.

– New ceasefire call unheeded –

Abdullah Abdullah, the head of the peace process for the Afghan government, said the ongoing talks offered an opportunity to end the war.

The two warring sides are at the negotiating table, a first in the three decades since the Taliban emerged as a movement across Afghanistan, Abdullah said.

“We recognise the need to get together, to sit together, to present our views which are different from one another, but to find ways how to reconcile those differences,” Abdullah told Doha-based Al-Jazeera TV in an interview released on Thursday.

He said negotiations aim to “find ways to be able (to) live together while maintaining some differences and fighting for it politically rather than through violence”.

In his speech at the opening session of the peace talks on Saturday, Abdullah had called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, but his plea has gone unanswered.

The Taliban have long worried that reducing violence could lessen their leverage, but have implemented two temporary ceasefires this year itself.

Peace talks commenced on Saturday after months of delay over a contentious prisoner swap between the two sides.

The negotiations are a result of a deal between the Taliban and Washington signed in February, which also paved the way for withdrawing of all foreign forces by May next year.


PHOTO: Afghan women hold banners and chant slogans in Jalalabad during a march to show their support for peace talks between Afghan government and the Taliban. AFP

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