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UN Allows Senior Taliban Leaders to Travel for Peace Talks

FILE - U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, center, speaks during a discussion with Afghan media at the U.S Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan Jan. 28, 2019.
FILE - U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, center, speaks during a discussion with Afghan media at the U.S Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan Jan. 28, 2019.

Margaret Besheer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

ISLAMABAD — The United Nations recently granted a waiver to senior Taliban leaders, allowing them to travel and take part in peace talks with the United States to end the 18-year-old war in Afghanistan.

The U.N. Security Council sanctions committee that deals with the Taliban says the nine-month exemption period beginning on April 1 is meant to allow the men to participate in Afghan peace and reconciliation talks in a range of countries.

"Individual itineraries will depend on the location of peace discussions. The Committee has also decided to grant a limited asset freeze exemption only for financing exempted travels," it said.

American reconciliation envoy, Zalmay Khalilzad, and his team are expected to enter a new round of meetings with Taliban interlocutors in Qatar later this month. Both sides say the dialogue process, which started late last summer, has since made steady progress.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told VOA that the names of all 14 members on their negotiating team and Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, who heads the group's informal "political office" in the Qatari capital of Doha, have been taken off the U.N. blacklist. Those on the list are subject to financial sanctions, travel ban and arms embargo by all member nations.

The insurgent group has long viewed U.N. sanctions on its leaders as a major obstacle to the peace and reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan. Taliban officials say Khalilzad had promised in the last round of discussions in March that he would look into the Taliban's demand of getting the sanctions temporarily removed.

The U.S. and the Taliban are trying to seal a deal on a withdrawal timeline for all foreign forces in Afghanistan in exchange for Taliban guarantees it would not allow international terrorists to use the country again for attacks against other nations.

Khalilzad, however, has repeatedly stated he wants a comprehensive Taliban cease-fire and the insurgent group's engagement in an intra-Afghan peace dialogue before Washington concludes a final agreement.

Intra-Afghan talks in Qatar

Before their next meeting with the U.S. negotiating team in late April, Taliban representatives are scheduled to host an informal two-day interaction in Qatar on April 19 with politicians inside and outside of the Afghan government, tribal elders, civil society, youth and women representatives.

Taliban officials have clarified there will be no official representatives of the Afghan government, and participants at the intra-Afghan meeting will attend it in their personal capacity to express personal views during the course of discussions.

The insurgents refuse to engage in any talks with the Kabul government, dismissing it as an illegal entity and a product of U.S. "occupation" of Afghanistan.

The informal intra-Afghan meeting will be the second such conference after Moscow hosted the inaugural gathering in February.

The peace overtures come at a time of intensified violence in Afghanistan, where both government forces and the Taliban have claimed inflicting massive battlefield casualties on each other in recent days.