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Afghan President Guarantees Taliban Leader's Safety for Peace Talks

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai says he will ensure Mullah Omar's safety should the fugitive Taliban leader want to come out of hiding for peace talks. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Kabul.

Since 2001, Mullah Omar has been an international fugitive with a $10-million bounty for sheltering al-Qaida leaders.

He founded Afghanistan's Taliban movement that ran the country from 1996 until the U.S.-led invasion in 2001 and he remains the most prominent Afghan Taliban commander. Afghan officials believe he is in hiding in Pakistan.

President Karzai says he will guarantee Omar's safety - despite possible objections by the international community - if he sincerely wants to negotiate peace.

"If I say I want protection for Mullah Omar - the international community has a choice - remove me or leave if they disagree," Mr. Karzai said.

Mr. Karzai repeated his government's demands that any Taliban faction that wants to negotiate peace must accept the Afghan constitution and not be a part of al Qaida.

In the past, Taliban leaders have called for the withdrawal of foreign troops before peace talks begin - which Afghan officials have rejected.

Afghanistan has experienced rising violence this year, as Afghan troops and international forces have struggled to contain a resurgent Taliban.

U.S and Afghan officials have expressed support for holding peace talks with so-called reconcilable militant groups, but it is unclear which Taliban factions could be included in the negotiations.

During an hour-long news-conference, President Karzai complained about the operations of internationally-run Provincial Reconstruction Teams. PRT's are trying to rebuild critical parts of Afghanistan's infrastructure, but Mr. Karzai said they are also undermining the government.

He says some PRT's in some provinces have weakened the local governance because they hire their own staff and carry out projects on their own.

The president also addressed public outrage over last week's acid attack against teenage school girls in Kandahar. He vowed to arrest those responsible and publicly hang them, even though he personally opposes public executions.