Afghan insurgent delegation meets top UN envoy

The Taliban leadership have publicly refused any talks with the Western-backed Karzai and demand all foreign troops leave the country.

Afghan insurgent delegation meets top UN envoy

The U.N. envoy to Afghanistan met delegates from one of the country's main insurgent groups in Kabul on Thursday, the first Western diplomat to meet them since they arrived in the capital for peace talks with the government.

Staffan de Mistura, the U.N.'s new chief representative in Afghanistan, met a delegation from Hezb-i-Islami at a hotel in Kabul, the mission said. Hezb-i-Islami is one of three insurgent factions fighting against foreign troops in Afghanistan.

"(De Mistura) listened to their points and indicated that their visit in Kabul and the ongoing discussions with Afghan authorities further underscored the importance of Afghan-led dialogue in order to bring stability to this country," a statement from the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said.

Hezb-e-Islami delegates had already met President Hamid Karzai earlier this week and handed him a peace proposal, his office said on Monday.

The UN statement said de Mistura's talks with the delegation took place "in consultation with President Hamid Karzai." It gave no further detail.

A spokesman for de Mistura declined to give any further details about what was discussed with Hezb-i-Islami.

It is the first known meeting between a Western official and the group since they arrived in Kabul, and comes weeks before President Hamid Karzai plans a peace "jirga" -- or council of elders -- to which the Taliban have been invited.

The Taliban leadership have publicly refused any talks with the Western-backed Karzai and demand all foreign troops leave the country.

On Wednesday, Hezb-i-Islami negotiator Mohammad Daoud Abedi told Reuters its leadership was ready to make peace and act as a "bridge" to the Taliban if Washington fulfills plans to start pulling out troops next year.

Abedi said the decision to present a peace plan was a direct response to a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama in December, when Obama announced plans to deploy an extra 30,000 U.S. troops but set a mid-2011 target to begin a withdrawal.

"Afghan-owned process"

Hezb-i-Islami is based mainly in the east and northeast of Afghanistan. The Taliban are more active in their traditional southern heartlands of Kandahar and Helmand, where they are battling thousands of mainly U.S. and British troops.

Most of the 30,000 extra U.S. troops pledged by Obama this year are headed to those southern areas against the Taliban whose government were driven from power in 2001.

U.S. officials have repeatedly said an American withdrawal will be gradual, at a speed that will depend on "conditions" on the ground.

Islamabad has also offered to play a role in negotiations with the Taliban, and its recent arrest of a top Afghan Taliban commander has increased speculation that Pakistan wants to have a place at the table when talks occur.

Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, on a visit to Washington for high-level talks with the United States, said he had discussed with Karzai what role Pakistan could play.

Qureshi told reporters at a joint news conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton he saw reconciliation as an "Afghan-led, Afghan-owned" process.


Agencies

Güncelleme Tarihi: 25 Mart 2010, 15:21

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