June 17, 2018 / 4:33 AM / 6 months ago

Afghan peace council to hold news conference amid Eid ceasefire

KABUL, June 17 (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s High Peace Council will hold a news conference on Sunday amid an unprecedented Taliban ceasefire and a day after President Ashraf Ghani said he would extend a government ceasefire but set no timeframe.

Dozens of Taliban militants entered the Afghan capital and other cities on Saturday to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fasting month. Soldiers and militants exchanged hugs and took selfies on their smartphones.

The peace council was set up to oversee the peace process. The news conference is scheduled for 10 a.m. (0530 GMT).

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 announced to run until Wednesday.

President Ashraf Ghani said in an address to the nation that he would extend the ceasefire. He also asked the Taliban to extend theirs and begin peace talks. He said he wanted to discuss “issues of mutual concern with neighbouring countries and the presence of foreign forces”.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed Ghani’s remarks, saying peace talks would have to include a discussion on the role of “international actors and forces”.

The United States wants Pakistan, which it accuses of harbouring Afghan Taliban commanders, to exert more influence on the group to bring it to the negotiating table.

The only time direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban have been held, in 2015, they broke down almost immediately.

The United Nations joined NATO and the United States in welcoming the ceasefires.

“UNAMA (U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) calls upon the Taliban to respond positively to the desire and yearning of the Afghan people for an end to the conflict,” it said in a statement.

A car bomb killed at least 26 people at a gathering of Taliban and Afghan armed forces in the eastern city of Nangarhar on Saturday. Islamic State claimed responsibility. (Reporting by Rupam Jain; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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