KABUL The Taliban said on Saturday it would not take part in peace talks brokered by representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the United States, casting doubt on efforts to revive negotiations.
The Taliban, ousted from power in a U.S.-led military intervention in 2001, has been waging a violent insurgency to try to topple Afghanistan's Western-backed government and re-establish a fundamentalist Islamic regime.
Following a meeting of the so-called Quadrilateral Coordination Group made up of representatives of the four countries in Kabul in February, officials said they expected direct peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to begin in early March.
But the Taliban, which calls itself the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, denied it would be participating in any upcoming talks in Islamabad.
"We reject all such rumors and unequivocally state that the leader of Islamic Emirate has not authorised anyone to participate in this meeting," the group said in a statement.
"(Islamic Emirate) once again reiterates that unless the occupation of Afghanistan is ended, black lists eliminated and innocent prisoners freed, such futile misleading negotiations will not bear any results," it added.
The rejection follows efforts to revive talks that broke down last year following the announcement of the death of the Taliban's founder and long-time leader Mullah Mohammed Omar some two years earlier.
The U.S. State Department called on the Islamist movement to come to the negotiating table, saying Afghanistan's allies would continue to back the Kabul government as it fights the insurgency.
"The Taliban have a choice: to join good-faith negotiations for peace, or continue to fight a war in which they are killing their fellow Afghans and destroying their country," it said in a statement.
"If they choose the latter course, they will continue to face the combined efforts of the Afghan security forces and their international partners," it said.
New leader Mullah Akhtar Mansour has laid down preconditions for taking part in any talks as he struggles to overcome factional infighting, with some breakaway groups opposing any negotiations whatsoever.
Heavy fighting has continued over the winter from Helmand in the south to Jowzjan province in the north, while a series of suicide attacks have been launched in the capital, underlining the difficulty of restarting the peace process.
(Reporting by Josh Smith and Mushtaq Yusufzai; Editing by Jane Merriman and Helen Popper)