Afghan rivals to resume talks as civilian killings sow suspicion


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© Reuters. Afghan men look out from a damaged window of their building at the site of a blast in Kabul

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KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan government representatives and Taliban officials are due to resume their power-sharing talks, officials said on Monday, although battlefield clashes and targeted killings risk undermining efforts to end the war.

The talks began in Qatar in September months after the Taliban reached an agreement with the United States allowing it to pull its troops out of Afghanistan and end its longest war in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.

The two Afghan sides got bogged down on procedures for weeks but in December they reached an agreement on the process, clearing the way for them to get down to the issues when they resume their negotiations on Tuesday.

“Talks are a complicated process but the Afghan government and the negotiating team, with regard to the interest of the people of Afghanistan, are determined to take the process forwards,” said Najia Anwari, a spokeswoman for the Ministry for Peace Affairs.

But Afghan government officials have in recent weeks accused the Taliban of a string of high-profile murders, including of bureaucrats and journalists, and bomb attacks.

The Taliban have rejected some of the accusations but at the same time, the insurgents have made gains against government forces in fighting in various parts of the country.

U.S. and European officials said they have urged both sides to reduce hostilities and move quickly towards a negotiated settlement.

The United States has been scaling back its presence in Afghanistan nearly 20 years after it intervened with its allies to overthrow the Taliban in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on U.S. cities.

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Afghan security officials expect the size of the U.S. force to dwindle to about 2,500 troops early this year.

The Taliban have been fighting since 2001 to oust foreign forces and reimpose their version of Islamic rule.

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