Afghan group rejects killing polio vaccine workers

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An Afghan group opposed to Taliban rule rejected on Sunday the police’s accusation that its members had killed polio vaccinators on a campaign to eradicate the crippling virus.

Police had said two members of the National Resistance Front (NRF) had been arrested in connection with killing seven vaccinators on February 24 in the northern province of Kunduz.

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The NRF were the last group to hold out against the Taliban takeover last year, retreating to the Panjshir Valley, which eventually fell in September, weeks after the former government forces capitulated.

The health workers were killed in separate attacks while on a house-to-house vaccine campaign.

“The arrested men have confessed to their crime and said they shot the polio vaccinators after receiving orders from their leaders from the Resistance Front in the province,” Kunduz police spokesman Qari Obaidullah Abedi had told AFP.

According to the spokesman, the arrested men also confessed that “they were paid” for the murders.

NRF rejected the accusations as “Taliban propaganda.”

“The National Resistance Front condemns the perpetrators of this attack and we strongly believe it was conducted by the Taliban or one of their terrorist partners,” Ali Nazary, spokesman for the NRF, told AFP.

The NRF is led by the son of legendary late anti-Taliban commander Ahmad Shah Massoud, who was assassinated by Al-Qaeda in 2001.

In total, eight polio vaccinators were killed on February 24 -- seven in Kunduz and one in the neighboring province of Takhar.

Polio teams in Afghanistan were frequently targeted by insurgent groups until the Taliban’s takeover in August.

Since then, the hardline Islamists have said they want to work with the United Nations to stamp out the disease.

In the past, polio vaccination drives in Afghanistan -- and neighboring Pakistan -- were accused of being fronts for spying, while some clerics said the vaccine was a conspiracy to sterilize Muslims.

Afghanistan and Pakistan are the only two countries in the world where polio remains endemic.

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