About 17,000 Afghan families from the Taliban bastion of Kandahar have fled their homes following months of heavy fighting between the insurgents and government forces despite peace talks, officials said.
Government forces and the Taliban have clashed regularly since October in the southern province, the birthplace of the hardline Taliban movement.
The insurgents have launched continuous attacks in several districts on the outskirts of the provincial capital Kandahar city, which still remains in the control of Afghan forces.
About 7,000 families — or 35,000 residents — from these districts have fled their homes and taken refuge in the capital, Dost Mohammad Nayab, director of the Kandahar Refugees and Internally Displaced People (IDP) Department told AFP.
“We have set up camps and tents in several parts of the city for them. We have been able to provide only basic food items to about 2,000 families,” he said.
A further 10,000 families have been forced to leave their villages and flee to neighboring villages or to relatives, Sardar Mohammad Barani, head of Natural Disasters Department in Kandahar said.
Barani said the fighting was ongoing in some areas and predicted a “humanitarian crisis.”
“It is freezing here. We only have a tent but no heater,” Zarghona, who was displaced from her home in the restive Zharai district of Kandahar told AFP. “Because of the fighting we had to leave everything behind.”
Since a US-Taliban deal in February, the insurgents have mostly refrained from carrying out major attacks on cities, but have launched near-daily assaults against Afghan forces in rural areas.
The second round of peace talks between the two warring sides resumed on Wednesday in the Qatari capital of Doha even as violence continues to surge.
At least 10 people, including five civilians, were killed in two separate overnight attacks in southern provinces.
In the second round of talks, Afghan government negotiators will push for a permanent ceasefire and to protect existing governance arrangements in place since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001 by a US-led invasion following the September 11 terror attacks that year.
“We want a ceasefire tomorrow but we know the facts and based on that the peace talks will take time,” vice president Amrullah Saleh said in a speech on Thursday, adding that the negotiations were at “a critical stage.”