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$140 Million Pledged for Afghan Reintegration Program

An international conference on stabilizing Afghanistan concluded in London with a pledge by delegates to contribute more than $140 million to a new trust fund designed to reintegrate Taliban militants into Afghan society.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the pledge Thursday at the end of the one-day meeting, attended by delegates from about 70 countries.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said the new fund will finance the reconciliation program and provide an economic alternative to those who have none.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said he will call a peace council of elders - and invite members of the Taliban - to discuss reconciliation in Afghanistan.

He urged the international community to support the effort and called for Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to help guide a peace process.

A United Nations official said later Thursday that members of the Taliban's leadership had met secretly with the U.N. representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, to discuss the possibility of beginning peace talks with the government.

The unidentified U.N. official said the meeting took place January 8 in Dubai and was held at the militants' request.

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told conference delegates that President Karzai's plan to reintegrate Taliban militants would bring greater stability and security to Afghanistan.

Clinton said with the right incentives, many low and mid-level members of the Taliban could become a part of the country's democracy.

Conference delegates also agreed that Afghanistan should take more control of its own security. And they said they are committed to making "intensive efforts" to ensure that the Afghan government is increasingly able to meet the needs of citizens through developing its own institutions and resources.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.