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Talks with Taliban reportedly on the rise

Email|Print| Text size + By Rahim Faiez
Associated Press / November 23, 2007

KABUL, Afghanistan - President Hamid Karzai said yesterday that his government has had increasing contact with Taliban insurgents this year, including several talks this week with militant leaders living in exile.

Karzai said militants in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan have increasingly approached the government in the past eight months, even as the country goes through its most violent phase since the ouster of the Taliban after the US-led invasion in 2001.

"Only this week I've had more than five or six major contacts, approaches, by the leadership of the Taliban trying to find out if they can come back to Afghanistan," Karzai told reporters in Kabul after meeting with NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer.

Karzai did not specify which leaders he had spoken to or where the discussions took place.

"We are willing to talk. Those of the Taliban who are not part of Al Qaeda or the terrorist networks, who do not want to be violent against the Afghan people . . . those elements are welcome," he said.

In the past, Karzai has offered to hold talks with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and to give militants positions in government in exchange for peace. Omar has rejected those offers.

Afghan and Western officials contend that many Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders are organizing militant activities across the border in the lawless tribal regions of Pakistan. Pakistan says its doing its best to quell the insurgency.

More than 6,000 people have been killed in insurgency-related violence in 2007, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Western and Afghan officials.

De Hoop Scheffer, meanwhile, said NATO has "worked hard" to change its procedures in order to avoid civilian deaths, following UN criticism that NATO troops were behind an alarming number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

"I never met a NATO soldier . . . who will intentionally kill an innocent Afghan civilian," De Hoop Scheffer said.

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