The People’s Peace Movement attracted international attention last year when they walked across Afghanistan in an attempt to reduce the record levels of violence across the country (WAKIL KOHSAR)
Kandahar (Afghanistan) (AFP) – A group of Afghan peace marchers who were whisked away for several days by the Taliban, prompting fears for their safety, reappeared unharmed Thursday.
The so-called People’s Peace Movement attracted international attention last year when they walked hundreds of kilometres across Afghanistan and into the capital Kabul in an attempt to reduce the record levels of violence across the country.
About 30 members of the People’s Peace Movement started a new walk on May 27, when they set out from Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province in the southwest.
Four of the group were taken into vehicles by the Taliban on Sunday as they crossed into insurgent-held territory, with most of the rest of the group taken away on Monday.
Bismillah Watandost, the marchers’ spokesman and among those who disappeared, said the group had not been kidnapped but had been unable to communicate, as their phones were not working in Taliban-controlled areas.
“The People’s Peace movement has come back with some good messages and we will brief the media tomorrow (Friday) about all the details, including who we met and what we talked about.”
Abdul Malek Hamdard, a member of the movement, told AFP the Taliban said they could “come and receive our friends”.
“They are all fine and we are on our way back to Lashkar Gah,” he said.
Hadamard said the marchers had held “discussions” with the militants. A Taliban spokesman was not immediately available for comment.
Watandost told AFP last week that the group aimed to express to the Taliban the pain and suffering of Afghans, and call for a ceasefire over the festival of Eid.
The group had initially planned to march to Mosa Qala, a Taliban stronghold some 130 kilometres (80 miles) from Lashkar Gah.
According to the UN, almost 4,000 civilians — including more than 900 children — were killed in Afghanistan last year, with more than 7,000 wounded. It was the deadliest year on record.
After 18 years of conflict, the Taliban are in negotiations with US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad for some sort of peace settlement. But a resolution still seems far off, with the two sides struggling to agree on several key points.
Khalilzad is expected to meet with the Taliban in Doha in the coming days for a new round of talks.
Ahead of that he has spent several days in Europe meeting with officials including NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and German special envoy Markus Potzel.
On Twitter, Khalilzad said he had met with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini.
“We share a strong conviction on why peace is the priority, how intra-Afghan negotiations get us there, & what regional economic potential peace unlocks,” Khalilzad wrote.
Disclaimer: Validity of the above story is for 7 Days from original date of publishing. Source: AFP.