March 14, 2018 / 11:25 AM / 7 days ago

EU, China urge Taliban to seize offer for talks: EU ambassador

BEIJING (Reuters) - China and the European Union believe the Taliban should seize Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s offer to recognize the movement as a legitimate political group, the EU’s special envoy to Afghanistan said on Wednesday.

Roland Kobia, the EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan, speaks at a news conference in Beijing, China March 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee

Ghani proposed a ceasefire and a release of prisoners among a range of options, including new elections involving the militants, and a constitutional review for a pact with the Taliban to end a conflict that, last year alone, killed or wounded more than 10,000 Afghan civilians.

The Taliban have not yet given any formal answer to the offer, but U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Tuesday during an unannounced visit to Kabul that the United States is seeing signs of interest in talks from elements of the insurgency.

“China and the EU believe that this is an offer that is meaningful. It is an offer that presents an opportunity and a window that should be seized by all parties across the conflict lines,” EU Ambassador Roland Kobia said after meeting his Chinese counterpart, Deng Xijun, in Beijing.

“We, as the EU, very much hope that the Taliban will respond to that offer to start discussion,” Kobia said.

“In these kinds of scenarios windows open very quickly but they can also close very quickly,” he said.

Kobia added that China had various contacts with the Taliban, but he was not aware of the details.

Taliban fighters still control large parts of the country and any new battlefield gains by U.S. and U.S.-backed Afghan forces cannot promise to overcome Afghanistan’s yawning political divisions and entrenched corruption.

Western diplomats and officials in Kabul say contacts involving intermediaries have been underway with the aim of agreeing on ground rules and potential areas of discussion for possible talks with at least some elements in the Taliban.

However, the insurgents, who seized a district center in western Afghanistan this week, have given no public sign of accepting Ghani’s offer, instead issuing several statements suggesting they intend to keep fighting.

China has worked with Pakistan and the United States to broker peace talks to end the conflict that has raged since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed forces in 2001.

China has long been concerned that instability in Afghanistan could spill over into its violence-prone far western region of Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people, where hundreds have died in recent years in unrest Beijing blames on Islamist militants.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

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