UN sanctions dropped against 5 senior Taliban
* Russia has been reluctant to delist Taliban
* More Taliban could be delisted in future (Adds U.S. reaction, background)
By Louis Charbonneau
UNITED NATIONS, July 30 (Reuters) - Five Taliban have been struck off a U.N. Security Council list of militants subject to sanctions -- a move sought by Kabul to ease reconciliation talks with insurgents, the United Nations said on Friday.
Their removal from the U.N. blacklist followed a review of the list of Taliban and al Qaeda members maintained by a Security Council committee. Two of the five were delisted because they were dead, the committee said in a statement issued by the U.N. Department of Public Information.
Afghanistan had pressed the committee to take some names off the list as part of a scheduled update. A "Peace Jirga" in Afghanistan last month recommended negotiations with moderate Taliban leaders and other insurgents to end a worsening nine-year war in the country.
Diplomats said Afghan President Hamid Karzai had sought the delisting of nearly two dozen Taliban, either because they had joined the government side or because they were dead.
But Russia, which sits on the committee along with other Security Council members, had been cautious about deleting names, they said. Russia is concerned about Islamic fundamentalism and Taliban-linked drug-trafficking in its region, they added.
The sanctions committee named the five delisted as Abdul Hakim Mujahid Muhammad Awrang, a former Afghan ambassador to the United Nations, Abdul Salam Zaeef and Abdul Satar Paktin, as well as Abdul Samad Khaksar and Muhammad Islam Mohammadi, who have both died.
"The assets freeze, travel ban and arms embargo ... therefore no longer apply" to the delisted Taliban, the committee said.
U.S. WELCOMES ANNOUNCEMENT
Russia, diplomats said, has indicated reluctance to remove even the names of dead people from the U.N. blacklist, possibly because it would free up any frozen assets that could somehow be used to help fund the Taliban insurgency.
U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Washington welcomed the announcement.
"These are individuals who have cut ties with al Qaeda and accepted the Afghan constitution and given up the fight," he said, adding that the U.S. government would follow suit by dropping U.S. sanctions against the men.
The committee has been reviewing all the more than 500 Taliban and al Qaeda entries on the blacklist. Decisions to remove entries are taken on a case-by-case basis and committee members demand hard proof that individuals have renounced violence and are supporting the government, diplomats say.
"The review of the Taliban and al Qaeda sanctions list will continue," a diplomat told Reuters. "There may be more names coming off the list in the weeks and months ahead."
Five years ago Karzai's office had asked the Security Council committee that oversees implementation of resolution 1267, approved in 1999, to remove some 20 names from the roughly 140 on the list at the time. Of those 20, five were removed in January and another five this week.
The Afghan government wants the remaining 10 names dropped from the blacklist as well, diplomats said.
Resolution 1267 freezes assets and bans travel of senior Taliban and al Qaeda figures and firms associated with them. (Editing by Vicki Allen)
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