January 28, 2010 / 7:08 PM / 10 years ago

EXCLUSIVE - Taliban commanders in talks with U.N. envoy

LONDON (Reuters) - Members of the Taliban’s leadership council have met secretly with the United Nations representative for Afghanistan to discuss the possibility of laying down their arms, a U.N. official said on Thursday.

The regional commanders from the Taliban’s Quetta Shura requested the meeting with U.N. Special Representative Kai Eide and it took place on Jan. 8 in Dubai, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official told Reuters it was the first time such talks had taken place with members of the Taliban’s top leadership council, which U.S. officials say is based in the Pakistani city of Quetta.

“They requested a meeting to talk about talks. They want protection, to be able to come out in public. They don’t want to vanish into places like Bagram,” the official said, referring to a detention centre at the main U.S. military base in Afghanistan.

Eide declined to comment on whether or not the talks took place.

The Dubai meeting was at a higher level than previously known talks which took place in Saudi Arabia between former Taliban officials and representatives of the Afghan government in 2008.

A regional analyst who followed the Saudi talks closely said the Dubai meeting appeared a significantly more important contact between the Taliban and international community.

The U.N. official said there had been no follow-up on the talks yet, but added: “We’ve had the initial approach and we are hoping that the Afghan government will now follow up and capitalise on it.”

The Afghan government invited Taliban insurgents on Thursday to a peace council of elders as part of efforts to find a way out of a conflict which is trying the patience and resources of Afghanistan’s Western allies.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom; editing by David Stamp

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