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Afghans voice support for peace talks with Taliban

KABUL — Afghanistan’s government reaffirmed support Sunday for possible talks with its Taliban foes, but demanded full explanations on how the group was allowed to raise its flag in Qatar and display other symbols that have stalled the US-led effort.

The ongoing dispute over the Taliban compound in Doha — which the Afghan government said appeared as something akin to an embassy in exile instead of a political outpost when it opened — underscore the extreme difficulties in trying to launch dialogue after nearly 12 years of war in Afghanistan.

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On Sunday, Taliban spokesman Shaheen Suhail reasserted the Islamic movement’s dismay over the controversy and made it clear that the Taliban had made no offers or concessions after Secretary of State John F. Kerry’s warning a day earlier that their newly opened office could be forced to close if the spat remained unresolved.

The Afghan peace process, which has made little headway since it began several years ago, is hobbled by distrust among the major players, with the Taliban steadfastly refusing to talk to the Afghan government.

There have been signs of increasing efforts to get the talks with the Taliban back on track. US-backed talks broke down nearly two years ago in a dispute over the release of five Taliban detainees held in US custody at a military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

With Afghan presidential elections and the withdrawal of most foreign combat troops looming in 2014, the long-stalled Afghan peace process has taken on added urgency.

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with President Hamid Karzai’s government, saying the United States holds effective control in Afghanistan, but the Americans are hoping to pave the way for talks between the two sides to begin before pulling out most of its forces.

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Militants, meanwhile, persisted with their campaign of violence.

A roadside bomb killed seven Afghan national police officer around midday in the central province of Oruzgan, said district official Faiz Mohammad.

Two foreign troops also were killed in roadside bomb attacks Sunday in eastern Afghanistan, the NATO-led coalition announced, without providing further details.

The Obama administration said last week that the talks would begin with bilateral meetings between the Americans and Taliban representatives ‘in a few days,’ then eventually extend to include the Afghan government.

However, the Taliban’s use of its old flag and a sign bearing the name of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, which the movement used during its five-year rule that ended in 2001 with the US-led invasion, at Tuesday’s office opening in the Qatari capital brought sharp complaints across all party lines in Afghanistan.

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