Afghan official: Pakistani mortars kill 4 Afghan civilians

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Several mortar shells fired by Pakistani troops landed in a border village in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday, killing four civilians and wounding nine others, an Afghan provincial spokesman said.

In Pakistan, police accused Afghan forces of initiating an exchange of fire a day earlier.

Abdul Ghani Musamem, spokesman for the governor of Afghanistan’s Kunar province, said Afghan forces returned fire Wednesday.

A lawmaker from Kunar, Wazhma Safi, said if Pakistan continued to fire over the border, the issue would be discussed at the diplomatic level. She said she believes Taliban insurgents, backed by Pakistan, were behind the attack on Afghan soil.

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Safi’s comments come as a fresh round of peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are expected this month in Doha, Qatar which were delayed due to postponement of a prisoner exchange between the sides.

Under the Feb. 29 signing of a U.S.-Taliban peace deal, the Afghan government is to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the Taliban are to release 1,000 Afghan national defense and security personnel.

So far, the government has freed 4,015 and the Taliban has freed 669, according to the Afghan government.

In Pakistan, Mamoond district police chief Shahzada Kaukab said a rocket fired from Afghan forces struck a home in the district Tuesday, wounding a woman and damaging her home. He said Pakistani troops returned fire but exercised restraint to avoid any escalation.

The Pakistani and Afghan governments often accuse each other of initiating fire in the border region, where militant groups are often interlinked on both sides of the border.

Mamoond district was once a haven for local militants and Taliban insurgents. Pakistan says the army has cleared the area in recent years, although violence persists. Militants who were not killed have mostly fled across the rugged mountains into neighboring Afghanistan.

Pakistan and Afghanistan share a 2,500-kilometer (1,550-mile) border known as the Durand Line, which Pakistan considers to be an international border.

Afghanistan rejects the colonial-era border created in 1893. In 2017, Pakistan said it had started building a fence along the border as part of efforts aimed at curbing militancy. But the move sparked condemnation in Kabul.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in a phone conversation with Afghan’s foreign minister offered to host intra-Afghan peace talks if both sides agree, said ministry spokesman Gran Hewad.

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Associated Press writer Anwarullah Khan contributed to this report from Khar, Pakistan.

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