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U.S. Afghan Envoy Urges All Sides To Reduce Violence After Talks In Kabul

21 May 2020 Radio Free Europe

U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has urged a reduction in violence “by all sides” in Afghanistan, saying innocent Afghans are bearing too much of the brunt of the war.

Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on May 20 after talks with Taliban representatives in Qatar. His trip comes amid an uptick in violence that threatens to unravel a peace deal signed by the United States and the Taliban in February.

He said on Twitter that the Taliban expressed their commitment to the agreement and its implementation.

"On violence, I told the Talibs violence by all sides must fall. Innocent Afghans have borne far too much and for too long the costs of this war," he tweeted.

At least 14 people were killed in attacks late on May 19 on two mosques in Afghanistan where worshippers were breaking their Ramadan fast.

The Taliban denied carrying out the killings, which came after last week's attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul in which 24 people, included newborns, were shot dead.

The Taliban also denied carrying out the maternity attack, which Washington said bore the hallmarks of the Islamic State (IS) militant group.

In a message that coincided with Khalilzad's visit to Kabul, the Taliban's reclusive leader, Haibatullah Akhundzada, said the militants were committed to the deal and called on Washington "not to waste" the opportunity offered by the deal to end America's longest war.

Akhundzada also urged American officials “to not afford anyone the opportunity to obstruct, delay, and ultimately derail this internationally recognized bilateral agreement."

In Kabul, Khalilzad met with President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who is expected to lead the intra-Afghan peace talks with the Taliban, according to the Afghan presidency.

The sides discussed the importance of "a cease-fire or reduction in violence before the start of direct talks," a statement said.

Khalilzad described his meetings with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of Afghanistan's Taliban and its chief negotiator, and members of the Taliban Political Commission before arriving in Kabul as "constructive."

"All sides have implementation requirements on all fronts including on prisoner releases by the Afghan government and the Taliban," he said, adding that he raised the issue of missing Americans Mark Frerichs and Paul Overby and concerns about recent Taliban attacks in Kunduz, Ghazni, and Khost.

The Taliban representatives said they would do all they could to locate the U.S. citizens, Khalilzad said.

The talks also covered the Taliban's concerns with Ghani's order of offensive attacks last week after the attack on the hospital, which occurred the same day as an attack on a funeral for a police commander.

Khalilzad’s visit comes days after Ghani and Abdullah reached a power-sharing agreement under which Abdullah, his political rival, leads the High Peace Council.

A power struggle between Ghani and Abdullah, both of whom claimed to have won Afghanistan's presidential election in September, had been one of the main impediments to the start of intra-Afghan negotiations to end more than 18 years of war.

The talks were to begin on March 10 under the agreement between the Taliban and the United States, which calls for U.S. and foreign troops to withdraw from Afghanistan following an intra-Afghan deal and in exchange for security guarantees.

The Taliban has so far rejected repeated calls for a cease-fire by the Afghan government.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan

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