Taliban reaffirm commitment to US deal in Pompeo call

Pompeo acknowledged the Taliban had refrained from attacking urban centers and military bases under the deal. (File/AFP)
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Updated 30 June 2020

Taliban reaffirm commitment to US deal in Pompeo call

  • The Taliban spokesman said Baradar and Pompeo discussed concerns about the deal, including intra-Afghan talks
  • The Afghan government in Kabul has said it has freed nearly 4,000 Taliban prisoners so far in a bid to kickstart the negotiations

KABUL: The Taliban reaffirmed their commitment to a February deal to draw down the war in Afghanistan during a call with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the group's spokesman has said.
The discussion came as US President Donald Trump faces mounting pressure to explain why he did nothing after being reportedly told that Russian spies had offered and paid cash to Taliban-linked militants for killing American soldiers.
The Taliban have denied that their fighters received any Russian bounties, and the group's Qatar-based chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar reiterated their pledge not to strike against the US.
Baradar told Pompeo that "according to the agreement, we do not allow anyone to use Afghan soil against the US and other countries", Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said Monday in a statement on Twitter.
The New York Times, citing anonymous officials, had reported last week that Trump had been told about the alleged Russian bounties but he did nothing in response.
Trump denied being informed of the assessment while the White House said the claim had been kept from him because the intelligence underpinning it was unverified.
But another report from the Times on Monday said the president had received a report about the alleged Russian bounties as early as February.
That month, the United States had pledged to withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan by mid-2021 in return for security guarantees in a bid to pave the way for negotiations between warring sides.
Under the landmark agreement, which excluded the Afghan government, Washington and the militants said they would refrain from attacking each other.
The Taliban spokesman said Baradar and Pompeo discussed concerns about the deal, including intra-Afghan talks and the release of 5,000 imprisoned insurgents.
"We are committed to starting intra-Afghan talks," Baradar told Pompeo, blaming the hold-up on the delayed release of prisoners, according to Shaheen.
The Afghan government in Kabul has said it has freed nearly 4,000 Taliban prisoners so far in a bid to kickstart the negotiations.
Pompeo acknowledged the Taliban had refrained from attacking urban centres and military bases under the deal, but called on them to do more to reduce overall violence, according to Shaheen.
Violence had dropped across much of the country after the Taliban offered a brief ceasefire to mark the Islamic Eid al-Fitr festival last month, but officials say the insurgents have stepped up attacks in recent weeks.
Most attacks by the Taliban have targeted Afghan security forces, although there are regular police reports that civilians have been killed in roadside bomb blasts.


Rome suspends flights from Bangladesh after virus cases

Updated 18 min 48 sec ago

Rome suspends flights from Bangladesh after virus cases

  • Of the 225 arriving Dhaka passengers on Monday, 21 tested positive for the disease, said Lazio’s top health official Alessio D’Amato
  • Lazio has sought to offer more testing for the community of Bangladeshis which numbers about 30,000 in Italy’s capital

ROME: Italy’s health minister ordered the suspension of flights to Rome from Bangladesh on Tuesday, after a spate of coronavirus cases within the community that authorities worry could expand.
On Monday, the Lazio region surrounding Rome issued a special decree calling for passengers from Dhaka to be given virus tests upon their arrival at Rome’s Fiumicino airport.
Of the 225 arriving Dhaka passengers on Monday, 21 tested positive for the disease, Lazio’s top health official Alessio D’Amato said on Tuesday, calling it a “veritable viral ‘bomb’ that we’ve defused.”
Health Minister Roberto Speranza said in a statement that a one-week suspension of flights had been ordered.
As of Monday, 32 coronavirus cases had been reported within the Bangladeshi community, Lazio president Nicola Zingaretti wrote in the decree. It was unclear whether that number included the positive cases among the passengers who arrived Monday.
Seventeen of the 32 cases were “imported” from abroad and 15 involved people in contact with those imported cases, the decree said.
It added that a two-week quarantine for passengers from Bangladesh had been insufficient to contain transmission of the virus.
There are currently 870 coronavirus cases in Lazio, with 14,709 in Italy overall, according to the latest official figures.
Since the crisis erupted in Italy in late February, 34,869 people have died of coronavirus, but the rate of new infections has slowed considerably, leading the government to roll back most lockdown restrictions.
Still, Speranza has warned of a possible second wave in the autumn, and has cautioned Italians to wear masks and avoid crowds, among other measures.
“The objective is to prevent the outbreak that is currently seen in Rome in the Bengali community from multiplying,” Francesco Vaia, health director of Rome’s Spallanzani hospital, told news wire AGI.
“It’s essential to put under control airports, ports and stations and activate a health surveillance on citizens coming from the non-Schengen area and in particular from countries where the virus is spreading.”
Beginning last month, passengers from Dhaka have arrived on special flights intended to bring Bangladeshi nationals residing in Italy back to their European homes and jobs following the coronavirus lockdown.
Italy’s borders are only open to those passengers coming from within Europe’s Schengen zone, as well as those from another 14 countries — a list that does not include Bangladesh.
Lazio has sought to offer more testing for the community of Bangladeshis which numbers about 30,000 in Italy’s capital, but only three people showed up at a special clinic offering free testing on Monday, Il Messagero daily said.
About 45,000 Bangladeshis reside in Italy, according to national statistics agency Istat.
Migration from Bangladesh to Italy has grown in recent years and many within the community work illegally in low-paying jobs.
Other cases involving Bangladeshis with links to flights from Dhaka have also been seen in Tuscany, according to news reports.