Taliban negotiator released in UAE, returns to Kabul: peace body

KABUL Mon Apr 21, 2014 8:34am EDT

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KABUL (Reuters) - A top Afghan peace negotiator held under house arrest in the United Arab Emirates has been released and returned to Kabul, an Afghan peace council official said on Monday, seemingly closing the door on a peace track favored by President Hamid Karzai.

Agha Jan Mutassim, a finance minister during Taliban rule from 1996-2001, was confined to his home in the UAE after arranging a meeting in Dubai between Afghan and Taliban officials in February.

Afghan and Western officials had seen Mutassim as an influential figure, capable of luring senior members of the Taliban to the peace process.

Mohammad Ismail Qasimyar, a member of the state-backed High Peace Council meant to facilitate talks between the government and the Taliban, confirmed Mutassim's release but provided no further details.

It was not immediately clear why he was put under house arrest, or who was behind his detention.

Once a close aide to the Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, Mutassim had brought 16-high ranking former and current Taliban figures and Afghan peace negotiators together for talks in Dubai at the start of the year, Afghan officials told Reuters.

The Taliban central leadership council, however, disavowed his peace overtures and said he did not represent the movement.

For years, the Taliban's leadership, believed to be based in Pakistan, has refused to negotiate directly with the government of Karzai. The Taliban says he is an illegitimate leader installed by United States.

Karzai steps down as president this year after 12 years in power.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Jeremy Laurence and Ron Popeski)

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