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Taliban officials ready for more talks with the United States

AFGHAN Taliban officials say they are ready for a second round of talks with the US, to focus on prisoner exchanges, confidence-building measures and how to move from back-door meetings to formal negotiations.

They recounted details of a meeting held in July with top US regional envoy Alice Wells.

Both Washington and the Kabul government have insisted that talks on Afghanistan’s future would be Afghan-led, with direct talks between Washington and the Taliban a stepping stone towards Afghan-to-Afghan talks.

The Taliban want direct talks to settle US concerns about their participation in Afghanistan’s future as well as the presence of Nato and the US in the country.

At the July meeting, the Taliban asked for recognition of their political office in Qatari capital Doha and an end to restrictions against its top leaders before the start of the formal negotiations.

They repeated their longstanding demand for prisoners to be released, claiming 2,000 are being held.

The fundamentalist group was overthrown by the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 but has continued its war against the invaders and the government set up in its place. In December 2016 the US military admitted that 10 per cent of Afghanistan was in Taliban hands while another 26 of the country was contested between the Afghan government and various insurgency groups.

Washington has been exercised by the fate of two prisoners held by the Taliban — Kevin King from the US and Australian Timothy Weeks, both professors at the American University in Kabul when captured in August 2016 as they returned to their compound.

The Taliban denied any involvement today in a suicide bombing that targeted a group of people protesting against a local police commander in eastern Afghanistan yesterday.

Provincial government spokesman Attahullah Khogyani said that the death toll has risen to 68, with a further 165 wounded in the attack.

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