May 20, 2010 / 7:27 PM / in 7 years

Afghan opposition to hold talks in Maldives


* Talks in the Maldives

* U.S. aware of meetings, awaits outcome (Adds U.S. comment, paragraphs 6-8)

By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL, May 20 (Reuters) - Afghan opposition figures including some former Taliban members plan to meet in the Maldives this week for talks ahead of a traditional government-organized "loya jirga" meeting later this month.

The Maldives meeting follows a similar gathering this year by some Afghan lawmakers, ex-Taliban officials and former members of Hezb-i-Islami, which leads an insurgency separate from the Taliban against the government and foreign troops.

This week's talks are being led by Humayoun Jareer, a son-in-law of the Hezb leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, lawmaker Arsala Rahmani told Reuters.

Arsala has played a mediating role between the Afghan government and insurgents in the past.

A Maldive government official confirmed the meeting, but declined to give further details. An Afghan government spokesman said none of its officials would take part.

U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Kabul had informed Washington of the talks in the Maldives but had also made clear these meetings did not include official Afghan government representatives.

"We continue to support efforts by the Afghan government to open the door to those Taliban who abandon violence and respect human rights of their fellow citizens," Crowley told reporters in Washington when asked about the meetings in the Maldives.

"We are not saying they are a good thing or a bad thing. The real question is, what comes out of this?," he said.

JIRGA

President Hamid Karzai has called a grand assembly of Afghans later this month to present the draft of peace overtures he hopes to make to certain Taliban elements.

Since being ousted by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban have staged a resurgence and are engaged in daily battles with around 140,000 foreign troops in the country.

The thrust of Karzai's plan calls for the removal of names of certain Taliban leaders from a U.N. blacklist and possibly giving them asylum in another Islamic country from where they can engage in talks with the Afghan government.

Fresh from a visit to the United States where he met U.S. President Barack Obama, Karzai says the West has begun to realize the need to reach out to certain Taliban elements.

The Taliban has repeatedly rejected Karzai's overtures, saying the Islamist group would fight until all foreign troops have left.

Early this year, Karzai said the guerrillas should drop their demand for the total withdrawal of troops before starting talks and in March held his first direct talks with envoys of Hekmatyar. (Additional reporting by Ranga Sirilal in Colombo and Sue Pleming in Washington; editing by David Fox and Todd Eastham) (For more Reuters coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan, see: here) (sayed.salahuddin@thomsonreuters.com; Kabul newsroom: +93 799 335 285)) (If you have a query or comment about this story, send an e-mail to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com)

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