Afghan government considering new Eid cease-fire offer

In this file photo, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Reuters)
Updated 21 July 2018
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Afghan government considering new Eid cease-fire offer

  • A truce in June saw unprecedented scenes of unarmed fighters and soldiers mingling on the streets of Kabul.
  • The Taliban refused an extension of June's cease-fire offered by Ghani, who ordered Afghan forces not to conduct offensive operations for another 10 days after the end of the Eid holiday as token of his willingness.

KABUL: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani may offer the Taliban a cease-fire during next month’s Eid holiday after the truce in June which saw unprecedented scenes of unarmed fighters and soldiers mingling on the streets of Kabul, a spokesman said on Saturday.
The announcement came amid growing speculation about the possibility of peace talks with the Taliban, following Ghani’s offer in January of talks without preconditions and the three-day truce during last month’s Eid Al-Fitr holiday.
That cease-fire, which saw unarmed Taliban fighters on the streets of Kabul and other Afghan cities taking selfies with soldiers and police, raised visions of longer-lasting peace 17 years after the US-led campaign that ousted the Taliban.
Ghani’s main spokesman Haroon Chakansuri confirmed a report in the Wall Street Journal this week that the government was considering a repeat of the truce during Eid Al-Qurban, the second Eid holiday which this year falls on Aug. 22.
“There is the possibility that a cease-fire may be announced over Eid Al-Qurban,” he told a news conference in Kabul. He said further details would be announced later.
The last Eid cease-fire came amid an increased diplomatic push to end the conflict, with the United States announcing it was willing to participate in Afghan-led talks with the Taliban and discuss the future of international forces in Afghanistan.
The Taliban refused an extension of the cease-fire offered by Ghani, who ordered Afghan forces not to conduct offensive operations for another 10 days after the end of the Eid holiday as token of his willingness.
Since then, fighting has resumed in many areas across the country with dozens of soldiers and police killed and more civilian deaths including at least 14 people killed by an air strike in the northern province of Kunduz.


New Zealand crews reenter coal mine 8 years after 29 killed

This handout photo from the Pike River Family Reference Group taken on and recieved by AFP on May 21, 2019 shows family members and workers hugging after the re-opening of the entrance to the Pike River Mine where 29 miners lost their lives in an explosion in 2010 in the north west of the South Island of New Zealand. (AFP)
Updated 22 May 2019
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New Zealand crews reenter coal mine 8 years after 29 killed

  • The plan won’t allow access into the inner workings of the mine, which are blocked by a massive rockfall

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: Crews in New Zealand on Tuesday reentered an underground coal mine where a methane explosion killed 29 workers more than eight years ago, raising hopes among family members that they might find bodies and new evidence that leads to criminal charges.
Anna Osborne, whose husband Milton was killed in the explosion, said the families had been fighting for this ever since the Pike River mine exploded.
“We did it. We won,” she said.
She said it had been a “hugely emotional” day for the families and it was a moving experience to watch people going back into the mine. She said they hope the crews can recover electronic equipment that indicates what went wrong, much like the black box in a plane.
“The families are all hoping that the team going in, with their forensic expertise, will find new evidence for future prosecutions against those who allowed the mine to blow up in first place,” she said.
Nigel Hampton, a lawyer who is acting for the families, said that if they discover what ignited the methane, it could help link acts of negligence with the deaths of the miners and result in charges such as manslaughter.
“There’s still a long way to go yet, but it’s possible,” he said.
Two workers escaped the mine after the deadly November 2010 explosion. After several more explosions, the mine was sealed shut with a concrete barrier.
New Zealand’s previous conservative government concluded the mine remained too unsafe to reenter. But the liberal government elected in 2017, led by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, reconsidered.
“New Zealand is not a country where 29 people can die at work without real accountability,” said Andrew Little, the minister responsible for Pike River reentry. “That is not who we are. And that is why today we have fulfilled our promise. Today we have returned.”
The plan won’t allow access into the inner workings of the mine, which are blocked by a massive rockfall. It remains unclear how many miners were on either side of the rockfall at the time of the explosion or how many bodies might be recovered.
New Zealand police said they’ll be examining any new evidence from the mine, which they could use to file charges.
An earlier investigation concluded the Pike River Coal company had exposed miners to unacceptable risks as it strove to meet financial targets. The report found the company ignored 21 warnings that methane gas had accumulated to explosive levels before the disaster.
The company, which went bankrupt, didn’t contest labor violation charges against it.
Labor violation charges against former chief executive Peter Whittall were dismissed after he and the company made a financial settlement, a development which angered many of the grieving families. New Zealand’s Supreme Court later ruled the settlement was unlawful.
Whittall moved to Australia about five years ago.