Senior U.N. official meets Taliban negotiators in Qatar

KABUL (Reuters) - The United Nations’ top official in Afghanistan met the Taiban’s chief negotiator in Qatar on Thursday, the movement’s chief spokesman said, as moves continue to try to start full peace negotiations to end more than 17 years of war.

FILE PHOTO: United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan Tadamichi Yamamoto delivers a speech during the UN conference on Afghanistan on November 28, 2018 at the UN Office in Geneva, Switzerland. Fabrice COFFRINI/File Photo

The head of the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) Tadamichi Yamamoto met Mullah Baradar Akhund and other members of the Taliban’s negotiating team in the Qatari capital Doha, the movement’s spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said.

Discussions centered on “the ongoing peace process, civilian casualties and humanitarian aid in areas of the Islamic Emirate,” he said in a statement.

UNAMA noted that it has frequent meetings with all parties to the conflict as part of efforts to help bring an end to the war and has had regular meetings with the Taliban in Doha.

“It has on multiple occasions made public statements that such meetings take place but, in keeping with UNAMA’s good offices mandate, does not comment further,” a spokesman said in an emailed statement.

The Doha meeting took place as officials from Russia and China were due to meet the special U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, in Moscow to look for ways to persuade the Taliban to open talks with the government in Kabul.

The Taliban have held several meetings with U.S. diplomats and their representatives have also met officials from neighboring countries and others with an interest in Afghanistan.

But it has so far refused to talk to the internationally recognized Afghan government, which it describes as a foreign-appointed “puppet” regime.

The Doha meeting comes a day after the latest UNAMA report on civilian casualties showed a marked fall in deaths and injuries in the first three months of the year after a big decline in suicide attacks on civilian targets.

The report said that for the first time, more civilians were killed by Afghan security forces and their U.S. allies than by groups fighting the Kabul government.

Reporting by James Mackenzie, Editing by William Maclean