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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - The Taliban has shut down dozens of clinics in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan in the past few days, officials said, amid demands for special treatment for its fighters who control most of the embattled region.
Dost Mohammad Nayab, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said authorities were talking to elders, asking them to intercede with the Taliban to allow the clinics to reopen.
"Hospitals are not places for politics and we are asking the Taliban to let our doctors and healthcare workers return," Nayab said.
Only three clinics, including the provincial hospital, were operating after the Taliban shut down 46 of the 49 treatment centres in Uruzgan since Friday, Nayab said. The Taliban were asking for special treatment for their fighters, he said.
"We have asked elders in the areas to talk to the Taliban to fix this problem," he said.
Uruzgan, which abuts the Taliban heartlands of Kandahar and Helmand, has been under intense pressure from the insurgents for years and the defences of the provincial capital Tarin Kot were briefly overrun last year.
A Taliban spokesman confirmed that its fighters had closed down dozens of treatment centres but said it was done because of poor services, underlining its push to replace basic government services in many areas under its control.
"In most of these centres there was no proper medication. There were no doctors or healthcare personnel," the spokesman said. "We asked repeatedly for better services but no one cared. Now if the local administration do not provide basics, we will."
The incident underlines the difficulty the Western-backed government in Kabul has in exerting control in provincial regions where the insurgency is strongest.
U.S. officials estimate that the Taliban, fighting to drive out foreign forces and impose strict Islamic law on Afghanistan, control or contest around 40 percent of the country, although they have not taken any major provincial city.
Uruzgan province was identified by U.S. commanders as a major priority for 2017 and there has been a big focus on bolstering Afghan forces with on-the-ground U.S. training teams.
(Reporting by Sayed Sarwar Zamani Amani; Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Paul Tait)