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VIOLENCE INCREASES, NO PROGRESS REPORTED IN PEACE TALKS

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Meetings between the contact groups from both sides of the Afghan peace negotiations in Doha were not held for the past two days, while clashes have increased in several parts of Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, the contact groups from both sides met twice but did not reach an agreement about the procedural rules intended to guide the formal talks, which have still not begun since the opening ceremony two weeks ago.

The Taliban has increased attacks in several parts of the country including Uruzgan, Kunduz, Maidan Wardak, Baghlan and Kandahar provinces.

In the past two days, clashes have occurred in the Dehrawood district of southern Uruzgan province, which is about 40 kilometers away from Trinkot, the provincial capital.

The people have fled from the center of Dehrawood, said residents, who added that “more people have been been trapped in the clashes.”

Jalaluddin, the district governor of Dehrawood, said: “The Taliban has come from several provinces and captured some parts of the district and most of the people have been displaced.”

“The clashes are still ongoing now after several days” said a member of the provincial council, Aman Hotek.

The residents said that the routes into the capital of the province have been blocked over the past several years and “transporting the wounded people to the hospitals is very hard.”

Abdul Rahman, who was wounded in the fighting, said: “It was not clear from where the bullets were coming from, and one bullet hit my leg and three other people were also wounded who were close to me."

On Thursday night, the Taliban attacked some parts of Rustaq Abad area in PD4 of northern Kunduz city, said a resident, adding that the “threats have reached the streets of the city.”

“There are clashes every hour in the city. During the night till morning no one sleeps--in every part of the city there are clashes,” said Feroz Arbabzada, a resident of Kunduz city.

Another resident of Kunduz said: “The shooting started and the mirrors in my shop were broken and one person was wounded here (Kunduz city).”

Jawid Basharat, a spokesman for the Baghlan police, also said that “in the past 24 hours, clashes have started in Baghlan-e-Markzai, Dahna-e-Ghori and Khost district, and so far 20 insurgents have been killed."

At least three policemen were killed and four were wounded in an attack on a security checkpoint in Takhta Pul district of Kandahar on Thursday night, local police officials said.

However, a security source said that seven police were killed and 4 police were taken captive.

Also, a large number of Afghan commandos were deployed to Maidan Wardak province on Thursday, said the MoD, adding that the troops will "defend residents and maintain better security in the province.”

There are reports that the Taliban have attacked security forces in several parts of Maidan Wardak in recent days.

The US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad, speaking at a virtual event hosted by the US Institute of Peace (USIP) on Thursday, spoke optimistically about the peace talks but acknowledged there were challenges ahead.

Asked about the current increase of violence in the country, he said: "We know that a reduction in violence is possible.” He cited the two Eid cease-fires over the past year,  making the point that if there is a will for a ceasefire, one can be implemented.

Both the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and the Taliban team formed small “contact groups” on the opening day of the talks on September 12. The contact groups have held five meetings so far to discuss rules and regulations as well as the agenda of the negotiations.

The regulations for the talks initially had 23 articles. These were reduced to 20 after meetings were held between the contact groups, and the number still may change, say sources.