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PRESIDENTIAL PEACE COUNCIL ATTACKED IN KABUL

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Explosions and gunfire have been heard as Afghan President Hamid Karzai opened a peace meeting of tribal elders (Jirga) in Kabul, on Wednesday 06/02/2010. Three rockets were fired at the giant tent at a university in Kabul where the meeting is being held, with one landing 100m away. A suicide bomber also blew himself up near the tent, according to Afghan police. No casualties were reported, except for the bomber. Zemeri Bashary, a spokesman for the interior ministry, said police killed two other fighters, and captured a third, in a house near the conference site (see – New-Tactics).

Hamid Karzai is aiming to use the three-day “peace jirga” to enlist support for his plan to offer economic incentives to reformed Taliban militants (see also -Karzai’s Peace offer) . But as he made his opening speech there was the sound of explosions and gunfire some distance away.

Taliban chiefs have dismissed the talks and threatened delegates with death. A representative of the Taliban is reported to have said that they carried out the attacks on the Jirga. Zabiullah Mujahid, a Taliban spokesman, said the attackers were dressed in Afghan army uniforms.

President Hamid Karzai had been scheduled to stay at the jirga (council) but has now left the meeting, although it is not clear whether this is related to the gunfire. But the jirga is continuing.

Up to 1,600 delegates – including tribal elders, religious leaders and members of parliament from all over the country – have convened for the traditional meeting. But they are far outnumbered by the 12,000 security personnel guarding against any Taliban attack.

Some correspondents say one of the aims of the Jirga is to bolster the position of President Karzai but there is also growing realisation in Afghanistan and the West that to end the conflict will mean reaching some sort of arrangement with the Taliban.

The jirga is due to finish late on Friday 06/04/2010, with a declaration expected on what steps should be taken to end the insurgency, which groups should be included in the process, and how they should be approached.

President Karzai has proposed offering an amnesty and reintegration incentives to low-level Taliban who accept the constitution (see also – Karzais Peace offer). He has also offered to negotiate the removal of some Taliban from a UN blacklist, and to give certain leaders asylum in another Islamic country for the purpose of holding peace talks.

On the eve of the conference, the Taliban issued a statement saying that the Jirga did not represent the Afghan people and was aimed at securing the interest of foreigners.

Another insurgent group, Hizb-i-Islami, led by ex-Prime Minister Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, called the conference a “useless exercise” (see – Talks 03.22.10)..

Both militant groups have refused to take part in peace talks as long as foreign troops remain in Afghanistan. Abdullah Abdullah, Karzai’s chief political rival and former candidate to the presidency, has also refused to participate in the conference (see – Afghan 09 Elections)..

Foreign troop numbers are set to peak at 150,000 by August before USA President Barack Obama starts a planned withdrawal of troops in July 2011 (see – Obamas Surge).
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