UN envoy meets Hezb-i-Islami negotiators
Friday, 26 Mar, 2010
Staffan De Mistura, the new Special Representative of the United Nations for Afghanistan, speaks during a news conference in Kabul, March 23, 2010. — Reuters
KABUL: The UN envoy to Afghanistan met delegates from one of the country's main militant groups in Kabul on Thursday, the first Western diplomat to meet them since they arrived in the capital for peace talks with the government.
Staffan de Mistura, the UN's new chief representative in Afghanistan, met a delegation from Hezb-i-Islami at a hotel in Kabul, the mission said. Hezb-i-Islami is one of three militant factions fighting against foreign troops in Afghanistan.
"(De Mistura) listened to their points and indicated that their visit in Kabul and the ongoing discussions with Afghan authorities further underscored the importance of Afghan-led dialogue in order to bring stability to this country," the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a statement.
A spokesman for De Mistura declined to give any further details about what was discussed with Hezb-i-Islami.
It is the first known meeting between a Western official and the group since they arrived in Kabul, and comes weeks before President Hamid Karzai plans a peace "jirga", to which the Taliban have been invited.
On Wednesday, Hezb-i-Islami negotiator Mohammad Daoud Abedi said its leadership was ready to make peace and act as a "bridge" to the Taliban if Washington fulfilled plans to start pulling out troops next year.
Abedi said the decision to present a peace plan was a direct response to a speech by US President Barack Obama in December, when Obama announced plans to deploy an extra 30,000 US troops but set a mid-2011 target to begin a withdrawal.
Reaching out to militants, in particular the Taliban, which Nato regards as a much bigger threat than Hezb-i-Islami, is one of Karzai's main priorities and has long had the backing of the United Nations.
Washington, while it supports plans to reintegrate low-level fighters back into Afghan society, has cautiously backed Afghan government efforts to reconcile with senior insurgents, provided they lay down their weapons and repudiate Al Qaeda.
On Thursday, the United Nations also urged Afghanistan to repeal a law that offers blanket immunity to those accused of war crimes before 2001. Karzai had refused to sign the law when it was passed by parliament in 2007, but rights groups say they learned just this year that it had been enacted anyway.
The law protects powerful former warlords in Karzai's government and could also shield Hezb-i-Islami's veteran guerrilla leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose forces have been accused of killing thousands in the 1990s.
The chief UN human rights officer in Kabul, Norah Niland, said the law "contravenes Afghanistan's obligations of international law, it green-lights impunity and of course continues human rights violations". "This law is likely to undermine efforts to secure genuine reconciliation," she added. — Reuters
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