Taliban deny meeting with a UN envoy about peace talks with Afghanistan

By Dexter Filkins
New York Times / January 31, 2010

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KABUL, Afghanistan - The Taliban’s leaders have denounced reports that their representatives had met with a senior UN official to discuss the possibility of face-to-face peace talks with the Afghan government.

In a statement sent to reporters, the Taliban leadership council called reports that its people had met with Kai Eide, the United Nations’ representative here, “futile and baseless.’’

“The leadership council once again emphasizes the continuation of the Islamic jihad against all invaders,’’ the statement said.

The leadership council is commonly referred to as the Quetta shura, named for the Pakistani city where most of its members, including the supreme leader, Mullah Muhammad Omar, are thought to be based.

The Taliban statement followed reports by American and UN officials that a group of men representing the Taliban had met Eide at an undisclosed location this month. The Taliban’s angry denial suggests either that the group’s senior leaders did not know about the meeting or are trying to hide that they are considering a possible deal.

For the West, striking a deal with the Taliban leadership would be tricky as well, not least because Mullah Omar provided sanctuary to Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, who coordinated the Sept. 11 attacks.

Also yesterday, four Afghan army soldiers were killed and seven were wounded in what appeared to be a case of friendly fire. A firefight broke out at about 3 a.m. between Afghan soldiers at a checkpoint near Syed Abad, west of Kabul, and a team of American and Afghan Special Forces. NATO and Afghan officials both said the coalition team returned fire and called in a helicopter gunship before realizing the initial shooting had come from an Afghan Army outpost.

Separately, the American military said that two American soldiers killed west of Kabul on Friday had been shot by their Afghan interpreter. Investigators said the man appeared to be acting under personal motives.