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News from Afghanistan: Afghan girls brave Taliban threats

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  • Zafar Khan
    Afghan girls brave Taliban threats http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2010/06/20106510171162225.html The Taliban has waged a violent campaign against girls
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 5, 2010
      Afghan girls brave Taliban threats


      The Taliban has waged a violent campaign against girls who go to schools in their Afghan strongholds.

      A series of attacks against schools and female students have driven many girls to go underground to receive an education.

      In one attack in Kandahar in 2008, around 15 girls and teachers were sprayed with acidby men on motorbikes.

      During Taliban rule, from 1996-2001, girls were banned from attending school.

      In parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan, particularly in Taliban strongholds, schools for girls still remain closed.

      But the Taliban has denied any involvement in the recent spate of suspected attacks,and has condemned the targeting of school girls.

      The Afghan government, however, has blamed the suspected attacks on fighters opposed to female education.

      Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel-Hamid visited one secret school for girls in Kandahar and sent this report.

      See Video: http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2010/06/20106510171162225.html

      Taliban attacks Afghan peace jirga


      has opened a three-day peace conference in the capital, Kabul, amid rocket fire and at least one suicide bombing.

      Several rockets were launched at the tent housing the conference, locally called a "jirga", during Karzai's opening speech on Wednesday. Long bursts of gunfire were also heard nearby.

      A suicide bomber also blew himself up near the tent, according to Afghan police. No casualties were reported, except for the bomber. The Taliban has claimed responsibility for the attacks.

      Zemeri Bashary, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said police killed two other fighters, and captured a third, in a house near the conference site.

      Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the attackers were dressed in Afghan army uniforms.

      The Afghan president left the area in an armoured convoy after his speech.

      Extra police deployed

      Security was a major concern in the weeks leading up to the conference. Extra police have been deployed throughout the capital, and journalists reported long delays at checkpoints on Wednesday morning.

      The Taliban warned delegates to stay away in an audio recording released last month, saying that "the punishment for participating in the jirga is death".

      "I think some Afghans... will say, if they can't even secure the area around the gathering that they've talked about for months on end, with the immense security preparations they have in place, what chance do they have of trying to secure the rest of the country?" Al Jazeera's James Bays, reporting from Kabul, said.

      Mirwais Yasini, the deputy speaker of the Afghan parliament, called Wednesday's attack "a very big security blunder".

      "It was a big shock for us [at the jirga] and for the nation," he told Al Jazeera.

      "We were sure that the security was very good here and there would be no security blunder."

      Dialogue with Taliban

      Delegates at the traditional assembly of elders hope to reach an agreement on how the government should hold dialogue with the Taliban.

      Yasini said dialogue is the only solution to the conflict in Afghanistan.

      "We have to have jirga because there is no military solution to the Afghan conflict," he said.

      "The war [has] expanded in reach to almost 20 provinces of Afghanistan ... We have to have an end to that and that will be a dialogue."

      Analysts say the delegates - which were selected by the government, and include tribal leaders, politicians, and members of civil society - are likely to reach a broad agreement on engaging the Taliban.

      The plan calls for the government to offer jobs to low-level Taliban soldiers who agree to stop fighting.

      In his opening address, Karzai criticised the Taliban for bringing suffering and oppression to Afghanistan.

      "The Afghan nation is looking at you," he said, addressing the delegates.

      "They await your decisions, your advice, so that you can show the Afghan nation the way to reach peace, to rescue Afghanistan from this suffering and pain."

      Barack Obama, the US president, has called the conference "an important milestone that America supports". European diplomats have also hailed it as a "crucial step to demonstrate national consensus".

      Staffan de Mistura, the head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, said he was cautiously optimistic that participants in the jirga would agree on a deal.

      "I believe they're tired of fighting... the Afghans are tired of a conflict that they will never win, that nobody else will ever win," he said.


      But critics of Karzai's government, and many outside analysts, are sceptical that the conference will produce a detailed blueprint for reconciliation with the Taliban.

      Karzai's main rivals have been excluded from the conference and representatives from the Taliban and groups like Hezb-i-Islami were not invited.

      Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai's main rival in last year's presidential election, declined to attend the conference, saying the hand-picked delegates do not represent Afghan public opinion.

      Elders in several provinces, including Helmand and Khost, say the most influential tribal leaders were rejected in favour of those loyal to the government.

      The Taliban is also dismissive of the event. In a statement sent to news organisations on Tuesday, the group said the conference does not represent the Afghan people, and is aimed at "securing the interest of foreigners".

      Human rights groups say the list of delegates is too male-dominated: Only 20 per cent of the conference attendees will be women. The number of women was increased after Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, warned Karzai that women were being ignored.

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      France admits killing Afghan kids


      The French army has admitted killing four children with a missile strike in a Taliban-controlled area of Afghanistan.

      "This happened on April 6, but it only came out today because, according to French military spokesman, it took that long to carry out the investigation," Al Jazeera's Hoda Abdel Hamid, reporting from Kabul, said on Thursday.

      The children died when French soldiers fired a missile from a military base in Kapisa province after it came under attack from the Taliban.

      "They say that they held their positions for about an hour to figure out where the fire was coming from, before they were ordered to launch a tele-guided Milan missile which is quite precise," Abdel Hamid said.

      A French military spokesman confirmed that deaths occurred when the troops returned fire, but said that the troops had not realised that there were civilians in the area.

      "We are expecting a lot of outrage from Afghan people and officials in response to this incident," Abdel Hamid said.

      "Attacks like this, where civilians die, are perfect for Taliban propaganda," she added.

      Afghan school girls 'poisoned'


      At least 13 girls have fallen ill after a suspected poisonous gas attack at a school in northern Afghanistan.

      The government has accused fighters opposed to female education of being behind the attack.

      Sunday's incident - the third in Kunduz province - brings to 80 the number of school girls reporting symptoms such as headaches, vomiting and shivering after suspected poisoning.

      On Saturday, 47 girls from a different school had reported feeling dizzy and nauseous, while on Wednesday 23 girls said they felt unwell under similar circumstances.

      'Strange odour'

      Fauzia, a 13-year-old girl and one of those affected in the latest incident, said when she stepped out of the classroom she "smelled a strange odour and then fainted".

      "I don't think my parents will allow me to attend the school after
      this incident," she said.

      Another girl, 12-year-old Sumaila, said she was in class "when a smell like a flower reached my nose".

      "I saw my classmates and my teacher collapse and when I opened my eyes I was in hospital."

      Humayun Khamoosh, head of the Central Hospital in Kunduz, said all the girls were in stable condition after initial treatment.

      Authorities said they were still investigating the incidents.

      Waheed Omer, a spokesman for Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, said anti-government groups intent on spreading fear were to blame for the incidents.

      "Whoever prevents children from going to school is an enemy of Afghanistan and its prosperity," he said.

      Taliban denies involvement

      But a Taliban spokesman denied the group had any involvement in the attack, and condemned the targeting of school girls.

      Girls' schools have been attacked in similar fashion in other parts of Afghanistan over the past few years.

      In one attack in Kandahar in 2008, around 15 girls and teachers were sprayed with acid by men on motorbikes.

      During Taliban rule, from 1996-2001, girls were banned from attending school.

      In parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan, particularly in Taliban strongholds, schools for girls still remain closed.
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