[R-G] Former Taliban minister denies Afghan peace talks
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Wed Oct 8 17:05:27 MDT 2008
Former Taliban minister denies Afghan peace talks
Wed Oct 8, 2008 2:59pm BST
By Jon Hemming
KABUL (Reuters) - Former Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed
Muttawakil Wednesday denied a meeting he attended with Afghan
government officials in Saudi Arabia last month constituted peace
talks aimed at ending the seven-year conflict.
The meeting however, hosted by Saudi King Abdullah, could still help
open the way to dialogue between the Western-backed Afghan government
and the Taliban to end fighting that has killed more than 3,800 people
this year, a third of them civilians.
"It's totally wrong news. The were no talks and no Taliban
representative was there. It was an ordinary and normal meeting and
dinner," Muttawakil told the Pakistan-based AIP news agency.
"During our meetings with delegations from different countries,
everybody talked about the problems of Afghanistan and expressed
concerns and similarly, we came to know Saudi Arabia is also
concerned," he said.
"But neither were there formal negotiations, nor did Taliban
representatives attend those discussions."
Muttawakil's comments follow similar denials from the Afghan
government and other former Taliban present at the meeting.
But while the former foreign minister, always regarded as a moderate
in the austere Islamist movement, insists he is no longer a member of
the Taliban, he and others present in Saudi are believed to have
regular contacts with the insurgents.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a direct appeal for peace to
Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar last week and asked Saudi Arabia
to help mediate talks, but the Afghan government also denies any talks
have yet taken place.
Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta told reporters on Wednesday
that ending the war required negotiations but only with those who
acted within the law.
"The Afghan government believes all doors for peace and negotiation
must be kept open for those who comply with the Afghan constitution,
and we have to work hard in this regard."
With more than 60,000 troops in Afghanistan, NATO-led and U.S. forces
have already suffered more casualties this year than in any entire
year since the Taliban were ousted in 2001 for refusing to give up al
Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks.
BREAK WITH AL QAEDA?
While Western officials, including U.S. Defence Secretary Robert
Gates, recognise reconciliation is part of the solution in
Afghanistan, it would be hard for them to make any accommodation with
the Taliban while the movement still has ties with al Qaeda.
Saudi Arabia, one of only three countries to recognise the Taliban
government in the late 1990s, would also insist the insurgents break
with al Qaeda and Saudi-born Osama bin Laden.
But the Taliban is by no means a fully unified group and has allies,
such as the Haqqani network operating in eastern Afghanistan, that
analysts say are reliant on al Qaeda support.
In a possible sign of conflict de-escalation though, the Taliban said
they would not attack aid convoys if they were for Afghan civilians
and the insurgents were informed in advance.
The statement comes two days after the U.N. special envoy to
Afghanistan, Kai Eide, appealed to the Taliban for safe access for
aid, including food distribution and polio vaccination.
"If we are sure that all food in the convoy is meant for the common
people, we will never attack it," Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad
Yousuf told AIP.
"The United Nations should contact the mujahideen before sending food
supplies to areas controlled by the Taliban and not bring police and
other forces along with them and then the Taliban will not attack
them," he said.
The United Nations in Kabul said it had not been contacted directly by
the Taliban but welcomed the statement.
If the Taliban statement is correct, said U.N. spokesman Dan McNorton,
"this is clearly a step forward and welcome.
"There is a real humanitarian need that must be addressed now across
Afghanistan. We all need to share this humanitarian agenda to ensure
that food reaches the most vulnerable," he said.
Attacks on aid workers and convoys have increased with more than 120
incidents this year and 30 aid workers have been killed and a further
92 abducted, the U.N. says.
(Additional reporting by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)
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