Afghanistan Marks Peace Day with Polio Vaccinations, Ceasefire
KABUL - Medics with polio vaccinations pushed into some of Afghanistan's most volatile provinces on the United Nations' Peace Day Sunday with a Taliban pledge they should not be harmed during the three-day drive.
The Taliban had also agreed to not carry out any attacks on Peace Day following a call from President Hamid Karzai that resulted in the Afghan and international military forces agreeing to refrain from offensive operations.
Afghans meanwhile rallied in marches, sport and other events to call for peace in a country ruined by nearly 30 years of war and struggling to defeat an insurgency led by the Islamist Taliban militia.
The latest campaign to vaccinate Afghan children against the crippling polio virus -- only found in a handful of countries -- was timed to coincide with Peace Day and targeted at the most risky areas, an official said.
About 14,000 health workers and volunteers aimed to deliver vaccinations to 1.85 million children under the age of five in six provinces, World Health Organisation country representative Peter Graaff told AFP.
They included Kandahar, Helmand and Uruzgan, strongholds of the Taliban who were in government between 1996 and 2001.
"This campaign was deliberately timed to coincide with Peace Day to access those provinces that have been given us access problems due to security problems in the past," he said.
The Taliban said Saturday it had ordered its followers to allow the vaccinators safe access to their areas. They had copies of a letter from the group's leadership asking for them to be unharmed, Graaff said.
"It does not guarantee everything but it is a useful instrument," he said.
The campaign was conducted with "new resolve" after two Afghan doctors involved in the vaccination process were killed in a Taliban suicide bombing a week ago, he said.
"We decided (after the attack) that we are going to continue, not only to get rid of polio but to honour the memories of our colleagues who died for this," he said.
A host of events were meanwhile held to mark International Peace Day.
Hundreds of blue flags were strung up in the capital, people read poetry and performed plays, while soccer and chess was played and hundreds of children took park in a kite-flying event, the UN said.
About 200 university students marched through Kabul shouting slogans such as "Peace in Afghanistan is peace (in) the world."
"I am participating in this peace rally because I want that the Afghanicide must be stopped," said one marcher, a 28-year-old philosophy student who gave his name only as Akbar.