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Afghan insurgents kill peace negotiator

KABUL — Insurgents ambushed an Afghan government peace negotiator on Wednesday, killing him and two bodyguards as they headed to a meeting in the south to discuss plans for local troops to take over responsibility from the US-led coalition, Afghan officials said.

Malim Shah Wali Khan, 53, who sat on a council that seeks to start talks with the Taliban in hopes of ending the nearly 12-year-old war, was killed when attackers hit his convoy with a bomb and automatic rifle fire, Helmand provincial spokesman Omer Zawak said.

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The province’s deputy governor, Masoud Bakhtawer, was also wounded in the attack. Helmand has been one the war’s bloodiest battlefields and a traditional Taliban stronghold.

Khan was the provincial director of the High Peace Council, a group formed by President Hamid Karzai to try and find ways to initiate peace talks with the insurgents. The council has so far failed to start any form of negotiations with the Taliban since US-initiated talks collapsed last year.

In a statement, Karzai ‘‘strongly condemned’’ the attack that killed Khan and said that ‘‘the enemies of Afghanistan are trying to attack and martyr those individuals who are doing their best to bring peace and stability to the country.’’

The US-led coalition has been handing over responsibility for security in the province, and around the country, to Afghan forces as foreign combat troops prepare to withdraw by the end of 2014. So far, the Afghan government is in charge of areas representing 80 percent of the country’s population. It hopes to assume full control by the early summer.

The British Ministry of Defense on Wednesday said three of its soldiers were killed in Helmand by a roadside bomb.

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