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Afghan Government Denies Talking with Taliban


Afghanistan's government is denying media reports that it has been holding talks with the Taliban. VOA correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kabul an Afghan presidential spokesman says there have been no such discussions.

Afghanistan is denying talks have been held with the Taliban or its intermediaries.

The denial follows reports that representatives of the insurgents or former Taliban officials met with Afghan government officials as part of a Saudi royal mediation effort late last month.

Presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada told reporters that while President Hamid Karzai has asked the Saudi King to arrange such discussions, they have not yet occurred.

"The government of Afghanistan is open to speaking with anyone in the opposition and the people who are fighting against the Afghan people and the Afghan government," he said. "But no such talks have happened, as of yet."

Media reports in the region have also quoted a Taliban spokesman as denying that peace talks have taken place.

In recent days, key figures in the international community have stated they would welcome such negotiations. The U.N. Secretary-General's Special Representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, says all relevant players in the country need to talk to end the fighting.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, on his way to Europe, told reporters Monday that just as has been the case in Iraq one of the key long-term solutions in Afghanistan is reconciliation with those willing to work with the government.

The U.S.-based Cable News Network reported Monday that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah hosted four days of talks between 11 Taliban delegates and two Afghan government officials. CNN also quoted sources close to the purported discussions as saying the Taliban have agreed to sever their ties to al-Qaida.

Saudi Arabia was one of only a few countries to recognize the Taliban government in Kabul in the 1990s.

The Taliban, ousted from power by U.S.-led forces in 2001, are an increasingly serious security concern for the country's government. The war in Afghanistan is entering its eighth year with casualties reaching a record high.

The Pashtun extremists are operating in some parts of southern Afghanistan. There they enjoy tribal loyalty, including among cultivators of opium poppies, the primary source of income for the region's inhabitants.

Following President Karzai's call for the Saudis to arrange peace talks, the Taliban leader, Mullah Omar, was quoted as rejecting the offer, claiming the 64,000-strong international force in Afghanistan would meet the same fate as the Soviets who withdrew their soldiers in 1989.

Meanwhile, U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan say 43 militants have been killed in a battle in the southern part of the country.

A statement from the military says coalition forces returned fire after being ambushed in multiple locations in Zabul province. Air support was called in by the coalition forces and no Afghan or U.S.-led troops were killed or wounded.

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