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Truce reduces fighting in Iraq

Fighting in Basra between government forces and the Mahdi Army is reported to have ended following Moqtada al-Sadr's orders to his followers on Sunday to stop fighting Iraqi security forces. The Shi'a cleric also called on the government to stop arresting his followers and to release all those who have been recently detained. The government is reported to have agreed to stop arresting followers of the cleric and to allow Mahdi Army members to keep their weapons. While armed clashes were said to have continued overnight in Basra, the city is now reported to be quiet. The government says that more than 200 people have been killed in Basra since fighting between the Iraqi security forces and the Mahdi Army erupted on 25 March. It is still not known how many civilians have been killed and injured as a result of the fighting. In Baghdad, a three day curfew was lifted in the early hours of Monday, but there were further rocket attacks on the Green Zone apparently carried out by members of the Mahdi Army. Non-governmental organizations appealed to the Iraqi government on Sunday to facilitate their distribution of humanitarian assistance to civilians in both Basra and Baghdad. The fighting and the curfew have seriously affected the delivery of such assistance. Many people are in desperate need of food and water and many hospitals have run out of vital medicines. "All sides must immediately allow food, water and other humanitarian assistance to be provided to the civilian population in the areas affected by the violence," said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme.