LOSBY, Norway (Reuters) - Representatives of the Afghan government and the Taliban attended an international conference on Tuesday in Norway on ways to end conflicts, but Oslo said there were no plans for formal peace talks between the two sides.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, Iranian vice President Masoumeh Ebtekar and Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi were also among about 150 people at the two-day meeting to exchange views about how to negotiate peace.
“There’s no plan for formal peace talks (about Afghanistan) ... but if you are going to reach peace then those who disagree must talk together,” Norwegian Foreign Minister Boerge Brende told reporters at the start of the meeting.
A spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry said Kabul had sent a six-member delegation to the conference at Losby, 20 kms (12 miles) east of Oslo.
Afghan Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said a three-man delegation was attending. He denied media reports that the two sides would hold peace talks to end a conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people.
“This claim is untrue,” Mujahid said in a statement. “The participants in this year’s conference will express their views regarding the turmoil and problems in Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Afghanistan.”
The Taliban, however, have often played down past meetings aimed at ending the 13-year-old war with the U.S.-backed Afghan government, including in Qatar in May.
Brende confirmed that Norway had hosted what he called informal talks in early June about womens’ rights and education for girls in Afghanistan that involved both government and Taliban delegates.
Brende said violence had risen in many parts of the world in recent years, from Syria to Nigeria. “After decades of positive developments we have seen some setbacks,” he said.
Colombia’s Santos said there was a “ray of hope” from talks between his government and Marxist rebels, conducted over the past 30 months in Cuba.
“Formidable difficulties still lie ahead in Colombia,” he added in an opening speech.
The 8,000-strong rebels lifted a unilateral ceasefire about three weeks ago and since then have carried out almost daily strikes against roadways, power networks and crude oil trucks and pipelines. The 51-year-old conflict has killed more than 220,000 people.
Reporting By Alister Doyle in Oslo, with additional reporting by Kay Johnson and Mushtaq Yusufzai; Editing by Gareth Jones