Afghan leader calls for peace with Taliban; 3 NATO soldiers killed

Afghan President Hamid Karzai made a call for peace to Taliban militants, including their leader Mullah Omar, on Tuesday, while three US-led coalition soldiers were killed in a roadside attack in southern Afghanistan, dpa reported.

On the first day of Eid al-Fitr, the religious holiday that comes at the end of the Muslim month of fasting, or Ramadan, Karzai called on the Taliban to stop their insurgency and join the peace process set out by his government.

Karzai, who often in the past insisted that negotiating with the insurgents would not include Mullah Omar, said that the fugitive leader could join his government and should not be afraid of around 70,000 international forces in the country.

"Come to your own homeland, and construct your country," Karzai said in a press conference in his presidential palace on Tuesday.

"Don't be afraid of foreigners: we will stand in front of them so that they don't hurt you," the president said.

"A few days ago I called upon their leader, Mullah Omar, and said 'My brother, my dear, come back to your country; come and work for the peace and benefits of your people and stop killing your brothers,'" he said.

Karzai also rejected media reports that secret negotiations were under way with Taliban militants in Saudi Arabia, but said Afghan officials have several times in the past travelled to both Saudi Arabia and Pakistan in the hopes of ending the conflict.

"The truth is that for the past several years we have been working on it. I have asked the king of Saudi Arabia to try to work for bringing peace in our country."

Meanwhile, Mullah Omar, who is one of the most wanted people on the US government terrorist list, has called on NATO and US forces in the country to withdraw from Afghanistan or face defeat.

"If you withdraw from our country, we will facilitate the ways for your withdrawal," Omar said in a statement to the US and NATO forces.

"But if you insist on continuing your occupation, then, like the Russians, you will face defeat in all corners of the world."

The Taliban did not comment on Karzai's call for negotiations, but such offers by Afghan officials have been consistently rejected by Taliban militants, who have waged a bloody insurgency following the ouster of their regime in late 2001.

In other news, three coalition soldiers were killed in a roadside bomb explosion on Monday in southern Afghanistan, the US military said in a statement.

The statement did not disclose the nationalities of the killed soldiers.

Most of the soldiers serving under the command of the coalition forces are from the United States.

More than 200 international soldiers have been killed in Taliban attacks so far this year in Afghanistan.

The conflict has also left more than 4,000 people - mostly Taliban - dead.

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