UN chief welcomes ceasefire in Afghanistan ahead of Eid

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UNITED NATIONS, July 31 (PTI): UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has welcomed the announcement by the Afghanistan government and the Taliban of a ceasefire to enable the Afghan people to celebrate Eid al-Adha in peace.

The UN chief urged all parties concerned to seize this opportunity and embrace an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process. Taliban militants announced on Tuesday that they will observe a three-day ceasefire for Eid al-Adha, starting Friday, offering some respite from weeks of increasing violence.

“The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by the Government of Afghanistan and the Taliban of a ceasefire to enable the Afghan people to celebrate the Eid al-Adha holiday in peace,” said a statement issued by the UN on Thursday.

“The Secretary-General urges all parties concerned to seize this opportunity and embrace an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process,” it said. The UN chief said only a peace settlement can bring an end to the suffering in Afghanistan.

He reiterated the urgency of a lasting ceasefire for addressing the COVID-19 emergency and underlined the readiness of the United Nations to provide any assistance that the parties may require, the statement said.

Disagreements over a prisoner exchange and the unrest have delayed peace talks between an Afghan government-mandated committee and the Taliban, as envisaged in an agreement signed between the US and the militant group in Doha in February. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a report on Monday that more than 1,280 Afghan civilians had been killed in the first six months of the year, mainly as a result of fighting between Afghan government forces and the Taliban.

The UNAMA has blamed the Taliban for almost half of civilian casualties during the first half of 2020, with less than one-quarter blamed on Afghan forces. Under the deal signed by the US and the Taliban on February 29, all foreign forces are supposed to leave the war-torn Afghanistan in the coming months in return for several security pledges from the Taliban.

The deal also stated the Taliban and the Afghan government should start direct peace talks on March 10, following the completion of the prisoner swap. But that date passed amid political disarray in Kabul and disagreements over the prisoner exchange, with Afghan authorities saying some of the released Taliban inmates were returning to the battlefield.

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