Taliban to talk to Swedish NGO after Afghan clinic closures

Ahmad Khalid Fahim, program director for the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan shows the group's website during an interview with The Associated Press in Kabul, Afghanistan, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. The Swedish non-governmental organization in Afghanistan said the Taliban have forced the closure of 42 health facilities run by the non-profit group in eastern Maidan Wardan province. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban said they would hold talks Thursday with representatives of a Swedish non-profit group after threats by the insurgents forced the organization to close 42 clinics it runs in eastern Afghanistan.

The closures of the facilities run by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan in Taliban-controlled areas of Maidan Wardak province are expected to affect almost 6,000 people. The clinics in government controlled parts of the province remain open.

The closures came after Afghan forces last week raided a clinic run by the NGO, in pursuit of the Taliban. Two staffers died in the raid.

On Wednesday, Sonny Mansson, the group's director, told The Associated Press that the Taliban threatened the NGO's staff by saying that if they do not close the facilities, "it would have consequences for themselves and their families."

The talks are meant "to resolve the situation" in Maidan Wardak province, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, though he offered no details on where and how the meeting would take place.

Also on Thursday, the Swedish committee was organizing a meeting of aid groups working in the country to take a united stand and demand protection of civilians from all sides in Afghanistan's nearly 18-year-long war.

"We would like to send a clear message that protection of civilians and aid workers should be prioritized by all parties to the conflict," the NGO said in a statement, expressing concerns over violations in international humanitarian law and the "increase in attacks on citizens, health care and education facilities."

Also on Thursday, in southern Kandahar province, a suicide attacker detonated his explosives-laden vehicle outside provincial police headquarters, said provincial council member Mohammad Yousuf Yunosi. Immediately after the explosion several other attackers opened fire on security guards with small arms.

Dr. Musa Khan at Mirwais Nika Hospital said one person was killed and 40 wounded in what witnesses said was a powerful explosion that shook the neighborhood, shattering windows in nearby buildings.

Kandahar is the former seat of the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until their ouster by a U.S.-led coalition in 2001.

Qari Yousf Ahmadi, spokesman for the Taliban, later claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement.

The Taliban currently control nearly half of Afghanistan and are more powerful than at any time since the October 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

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Associated Press writer Kathy Gannon in Islamabad contributed to this report.

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