Afghan government appoints former Taliban commander local chief

( dpa ) - A former Taliban commander, who helped Afghan and NATO-led forces retake an insurgent-controlled town, has been appointed as district chief in the southern region, a presidential spokesman said on Tuesday.

Mullah Abdul Salam, a local Taliban commander, switched sides just before a NATO-led operation to retake the town of Musa Qalah in the southern province of Helmand, which was in the hands of Taliban insurgents for 10 months.

The Taliban fighters withdrew from the town without any strong resistance and the town was captured by the combined forces in December.

"Mr Mullah Salam has been appointed as district chief of Musa Qala," presidential spokesman Humayun Hamidzada told a press conference on Tuesday.

"It is consistent with the Afghan government policies. The president has said that all those former Taliban who come and accept the constitution and who want to participate in the political process through non-violent means, they are all welcome," Hamidzada said.

Officials said that Mullah Salam had a unique role in recapturing the town, which had served as a symbol of Taliban military power in the heart of their stronghold in the southern region.

Mullah Salam "had a role in liberating Musa Qala from terrorist elements and he had a role in bringing unity among different tribes. Now he is at the service of his people and he enjoys the support of the government as well as the support of the people," the spokesman said.

He also called on other Taliban militants to follow Mullah Salam's decision, saying "whoever accepts the constitution and they want to do what they can through political process, the doors are open always for them."

Helmand, the largest opium-producing province, still remains as a powerful stronghold of the Taliban, where the militants control at least three districts.

According to Afghan and Western officials, the capture of Musa Qala served as the biggest military achievement for Afghan and international forces in 2007, the year which saw the biggest upsurge in violence since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001.

More than 6,300 people - mostly insurgents - died in 2007, the record year since the formation of Western-backed Afghan government some six years ago.

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