The Afghan Taliban said they would hold talks on Thursday with representatives of a Swedish non-profit group after threats by the militants forced the organisation to close 42 clinics it runs in eastern Afghanistan.
The closures of the facilities run by the Swedish Committee for Afghanistan in Taliban-controlled areas of Maidan Wardak province are expected to affect almost 6,000 people. The clinics in the Afghan government-controlled parts of the province remain open.
The closures came after Afghan forces last week raided a clinic run by the NGO, in pursuit of the Taliban. Two staffers died in the raid.
On Wednesday, Sonny Mansson, the group's director, told The Associated Press that the Taliban threatened the NGO's staff by saying that if they do not close the facilities, “it would have consequences for themselves and their families.”
The talks are meant “to resolve the situation” in Maidan Wardak province, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said, though he offered no details on where and how the meeting would take place.
Also on Thursday, the Swedish committee was organising a meeting of aid groups working in the country to take a united stand and demand protection of civilians from all sides in Afghanistan's nearly 18 year-long war.
“We would like to send a clear message that protection of civilians and aid workers should be prioritised by all parties to the conflict,” the NGO said in a statement, expressing concerns over violations in international humanitarian law and the “increase in attacks on citizens, health care and education facilities.”
Kandahar is the former seat of the Taliban when they ruled Afghanistan from 1996 until their ouster by a United States-led coalition in 2001. The Taliban currently controls nearly half of Afghanistan and are more powerful than at any time since the October 2001 US-led invasion.