Taliban enter Afghan capital to mark Eid ceasefire, hugs and selfies elsewhere

by Reuters
Saturday, 16 June 2018 09:31 GMT

AFGHANISTAN-TALIBAN/ (UPDATE 2, TV):UPDATE 2-Taliban enter Afghan capital to mark Eid ceasefire, hugs and selfies elsewhere

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Video and pictures on news websites showed cheerful soldiers and Taliban hugging one another and exchanging Eid greetings

(Recasts)

By Rupam Jain and Qadir Sediqi

KABUL, June 16 (Reuters) - Dozens of unarmed Taliban militants entered the Afghan capital on Saturday to celebrate an unprecedented ceasefire marking the end of the Ramadan fasting season, police said, as elsewhere soldiers and militants exchanged hugs and selfies.

The Taliban announced a surprise three-day ceasefire over the Eid holiday, which began on Friday, except against foreign forces. It overlaps with an Afghan government ceasefire which lasts until Wednesday.

The Taliban entered Kabul through gates in the south and southeast.

"They are unarmed as they handed over their weapons at the entrances," Kabul police spokesman Hashmat Stanekzai told Reuters. Their weapons will be returned to them when they leave, he said.

Video and pictures on news websites showed cheerful soldiers and Taliban hugging one another and exchanging Eid greetings in Logar province, south of Kabul, and Zabul in the south and central Maidan Wardak. Some people were dancing and clapping as onlookers took photos with their smartphones.

Channel 1 TV tweeted a picture of a lone Talib waving the group's flag from a Kabul bridge.

Afghan Deputy Interior Minister Masood Azizi said the ceasefire was being monitored throughout the country.

"Luckily there have been no attacks," he told Reuters.

Governors in Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul said both sides had adhered to the ceasefire and that there had been no reports of violence for 24 hours.

Members of rights groups organised a brief meeting between Afghan forces and Taliban insurgents in Helmand's capital city. Laskargah, where the Taliban have delivered a series of blows to government forces this year.

Men and women gathered around the soldiers and Taliban fighters and urged them to keep their weapons holstered before they hugged each other.

"It was the most peaceful Eid. For the first time we felt safe. It is hard to describe the joy," said Qais Liwal, a student in Zabul.

The main square of Kunduz city, capital of the province of the same name which has witnessed a series of bloody clashes, became a friendly meeting ground.

Resident Mohammad Amir said his younger brother had told him the Taliban were casually entering the city.

"I could not believe my eyes," he told Reuters. "I saw Taliban and police standing side by side and taking selfies."

Photos on news websites showed armed police standing in line at the corner of the street hugging Taliban fighters one by one.

A video showed a huge crowd of people screaming and whistling as they welcomed the Taliban. In some districts of the eastern city of Jalalabad, civilians were offering dry fruit, traditional sweets and ice cream to Taliban militants.

A Reuters reporter in Jalalabad saw more than a dozen Taliban insurgents enjoying their food and playing with children.

President Ashraf Ghani on Friday expressed hope that the ceasefire would make way for a lengthier halt in the fighting and called for the Taliban to come to the negotiating table.

The ceasefire coincided with the start of the World Cup, a cricket test match debut against India, and hopes for elections later in the year and peace that lasts longer than just a few days following months of deteriorating security, especially in the capital, Kabul.

The Taliban are fighting U.S.-led NATO forces, combined under the Resolute Support mission, and the U.S.-backed government to restore sharia, or Islamic law, after their ouster by U.S.-led forces in 2001.

Resolute Support said it was hopeful that the Taliban stick to their ceasefire "and we hope that pause leads to dialogue and progress on reconciliation". (Reporting by Rupam Jain and Qadir Sediqi; Additional reporting by Mohammad Stanekzai and Ahmad Sultan; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Tom Hogue)

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