'Butcher of Kabul' Gulbuddin Hekmatyar demands peace in first public speech for 20 years

Afghan warlord and former prime minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar has urged the Taliban to lay down its weapons and join a "caravan of peace".

Returning to public life after more than 20 years in exile, Hekmatyar told militants to "stop the pointless, meaningless and unholy war" and "join hands to… bring peace in Afghanistan."

Known widely as the 'Butcher of Kabul', Hekmatyar was accused of killing thousands of people when his fighters fired on civilian areas of the Afghan capital during the 1992-96 civil war.

The 69-year-old, who leads the militant group Hizb-i-Islam, later fled Kabul after the Taliban came to power in 1996 and was designated as a "global terrorist" by the US.

During his time in hiding, he claimed British troops were deployed to Afghanistan "to please the White House" and described Prince Harry as a "jackal" who "kills innocent Afghans while he is drunk".

In September, Hekmatyar struck a peace deal with Afghanistan's president, Ashraf Ghani, paving the way for his return to the country and prompting the UN to remove his name from its Islamic State and al-Qaeda sanctions list.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the end of his exile, Hekmatyar told followers: "I want a free, proud, independent and Islamic Afghanistan.

"Come for God's sake, come and give up fighting which the victims of this war are Afghans."

Mr Ghani said the warlord's return to Afghanistan "will have remarkable effects on peace, stability, prosperity and development".

Afghanistan's chief executive, Abdullah Abdullah, added that Hekmatyar was now "in his own country and on his own soil, proudly among his own people".

He said: "Afghan people have also welcomed this move too. We hope that this would be an example for others."

The peace deal has been criticised by some Afghans and human rights groups for the pardon it granted to Hekmatyar and many of his fighters.

Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Patricia Gossman described it as an "affront" to victims of abuses and said the warlord's return "will compound the culture of impunity".

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