Mothers of slain teenage sons, men wounded by mine blasts and tearful widows were among Afghans who spoke out Sunday at a conference billed as the first major gathering of victims of decades of war in their country.
The so-called "victims' jirga" at a Kabul hotel brought together dozens of Afghans from across the country to build pressure on the government ahead of a national peace assembly called by President Hamid Karzai for later this month.
Legal advocates who organized the gathering in the capital want to make sure the voices of the Afghan people who have suffered at the hands of insurgents, warlords and under the former Taliban and Soviet regimes are heard at the government's peace assembly.
Some 1,500 people from across Afghan society have been invited to the assembly to seek a consensus for reconciling with insurgents willing to lay down their arms. Some victims don't want those who perpetrated violence over the years to be allowed to regain a measure of power, and for them to pay the consequences for their actions in order to resolve the more than eight-year-old war.
"We cannot lose hope for a peaceful life," said Sima Hussiani, a woman from Badakhshan province in northern Afghanistan. The former Taliban regime killed her two brothers, both teachers, in the late 1990s, she said. "I don't want blood for blood, but the perpetrators should acknowledge their mistakes."
Despite talk of peace and hopes for justice, the violence continues across the country as an insurgency led by Taliban militants works to destabilize the Karzai government and its international supporters.
NATO reported a service member died Sunday following an insurgent attack in southern Afghanistan. No other details were disclosed.
On Saturday, four members of a community defense force protecting villagers in western Afghanistan were beheaded by militants in fighting, an Afghan army official said Sunday.
Maj. Zainudin Sharifi, the commander of the Afghan National Army's rapid-response team in Herat province, said the fighting occurred in Zerko, a Taliban area of Shindand district.
The defense force, hired by the Afghan Interior Ministry, came under fire while investigating tips that suicide bombers were planning to attack a coalition outpost. Four were captured and beheaded.
Coalition forces and the quick-response force responded, killing 10 militants. Sharifi said four of the militants died when they were hit by bullets that detonated their suicide vests.
Also on Saturday in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, a joint Afghan and international force uncovered a roadside bomb factory in Now Zad district. NATO said Sunday two suspected insurgents were detained and dozens of rocket-propelled grenades and bomb parts were confiscated.
In a separate operation, NATO said a joint force killed several insurgents and seized 4,960 pounds of opium resin, 130 pounds of morphine, 44 pounds of heroin and four guns on Saturday in Helmand, about 25 miles north of the Pakistani border.
By Associated Press Writer Jamey Keaten