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No decision on talks: Taliban

world Updated: Jan 29, 2010 23:49 IST

Taliban leaders will decide soon whether to join talks with the Afghan government, a militant spokesman said on Friday, after President Hamid Karzai invited them to a peace council aimed at ending the Afghan war.

In the country’s south, suicide attackers launched an assault in the capital of Helmand, Afghanistan’s most violent province, and gunmen were holed up in a building battling government and Nato troops who returned fire with helicopter strikes.

On Thursday, at a major conference on Afghanistan, Karzai set the framework for dialogue with Taliban leaders when he called on the Islamist group’s leadership to take part in a “loya jirga” — or large assembly of elders — to initiate peace talks.

The call came amidst a diplomatic push from Western powers involved in the Afghanistan conflict to make hard plans that would pave the way for them to begin withdrawing their troops.

Under Karzai’s proposal, the West would not be directly involved in peace talks. A separate plan backed by Washington and its allies would set up a fund to reintegrate Taliban by luring them away from the insurgency with jobs and cash.

A Taliban spokesman in Afghanistan declined to talk in detail about Karzai’s plans and said the militants would make a decision about his offer “soon.”

“I cannot say a word regarding these peace talks. The Taliban leadership will soon decide whether to take part,” the spokesman, who uses the name Qari Mohammad Yousuf, said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

The Taliban have said repeatedly that negotiations with the Afghan government can only take place when foreign troops completely withdraw from Afghanistan and have dismissed the reintegration plans as a “trick”.