France says Afghan officials to meet Taliban near Paris
PARIS (Reuters) - France said on Sunday officials from the Afghan government, the Taliban rebel movement and other factions would meet this week near Paris to discuss the country's future as NATO troops prepare to pull out in 2014.
Speaking on RFI radio, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, whose country withdrew the last of its combat troops from Afghanistan on Saturday, said Afghan President Hamid Karzai had given his green light to the meeting.
"Discreet talks have been taking place between different factions for three years," Fabius said.
"If you want peace, it's usually between people who don't agree, and over there they don't talk to each other. So there will be discussions, but it won't be negotiations."
Karzai's government has failed to draw the Taliban into face-to-face-talks. The forthcoming event is the first time representatives from the Taliban, members of the Afghan High Peace Council and influential figures from the Northern Alliance who fought the Taliban for years are taking part.
A Taliban spokesman said there would only be speeches at the conference and there would be no political commitments and no negotiations would take place.
The officials are due to meet between Wednesday and Friday at a secret location to the north of Paris, which will be entirely closed off, said Camille Grand, director of the Foundation for Strategic Research, a think tank which is organising the event.
"They have been invited on an individual basis," he said. "The idea is to get them to talk freely and behind closed doors," he told Reuters, adding that there would be 20 participants. He declined to name the individuals attending.
Fabius said France had no direct involvement in the process other than hosting it. Sources said French officials would be present.
Attacks by Taliban insurgents rose slightly during the main part of the Afghan fighting season this year as some U.S. forces withdrew and the transition to a lead role for Afghan security forces picked up pace, according to a Pentagon report released on December 10.
(Reporting By John Irish, Pauline Mevel and Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Stephen Powell)
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