Asia

Kidnapped Afghan People's Peace Movement marchers freed

Afghan protesters march for peace and ceasefire in Kandahar province on 17 January 2019 Image copyright JAVED TANVEER/GETTY
Image caption The movement's marches have attracted a lot of local support as well as international attention

Twenty-seven members of a peace group who were kidnapped as they travelled in western Afghanistan have been released, local media say.

The People's Peace Movement (PPM) disappeared after entering Farah province two days ago as part of a march demanding a ceasefire.

The Taliban were suspected of being behind it. They have not commented.

The militants are engaged in peace talks with the US, but regularly attack Afghan and international forces.

The activists, travelling in six cars, were stopped by the Taliban on a major road, Deputy Farah Governor Massoud Bakhtawar said. They had started their march in Herat province two weeks ago.

The movement said it was the fourth time the Taliban had abducted its members. The PPM started its marches in early 2018 in Helmand in protest against violent attacks, after a car bomb in a stadium in the south of the province killed 17 civilians and injured 50.

Since then they have travelled to other parts of the country, often marching through areas controlled by the Taliban. Their walks have attracted a lot of local support as well as international attention.

The Taliban have previously accused the movement of being financed by the Afghan government, but the PPM denies this.

In a separate development, a suicide attacker detonated his explosives-laden vehicle near a military base in the northern Balkh province, killing at least six soldiers and wounding three others, a spokesman for the ministry of defence said.

A spokesman for the Taliban said the group was behind the attack, which happened two days after another attack on a military checkpoint in the same province killed seven soldiers.

Tens of thousands of Afghan civilians and members of the security forces, and more than 3,000 international military personnel, have been killed in fighting since the war in the country began in 2001.

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