Afghanistan to hold peace assembly on May 29

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai reads a statement to the media in New Delhi April 26, 2010. REUTERS/B Mathur/Files

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan will convene a national peace assembly from May 29 to discuss how to bring Taliban insurgents into peace talks, just weeks after President Hamid Karzai is due to return from Washington, the organisers said.

The Taliban, ousted from power by U.S.-backed Afghan force in late 2001 after ruling most of the country for five years, have repeatedly demanded the withrawal of international troops before any peace talks can take place.

The assembly, known as a “jirga”, was initially planned for earlier this month but was cancelled as the date clashed with Karzai’s trip to Washington from May 10-14.

The main organiser of the three-day event, Education Minister Farooq Wardak, has said that postponement would allow Karzai to report to the jirga about U.S. policy towards Afghan initiatives on negotiating with the insurgents.

Karzai considers the event to be one of the major initiatives in his plans to reach out to insurgents this year, although Washington says it is still too early to expect a breakthrough in talks with the Taliban.

More than 1,000 people, including tribal elders, provincial and districts chiefs, lawmakers and civil society members will gather in Kabul to discuss ways bring the Taliban into a peace deal.

Insurgents themselves are not specifically invited, although organisers say there might be Taliban sympathisers among the tribal chiefs and district officials expected to attend.

Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Nick Macfie