Hundreds of Afghan insurgents to lay down arms, NATO says

Hundreds of Afghan insurgents to lay down arms, NATO says

Hundreds of Taliban fighters have agreed to lay down arms as part of a government-led reconciliation effort with rebels, a NATO official said Monday, dpa reported.

The mid-level leaders of the insurgents were currently negotiating with the Afghan government, said General Philip Jones, the head of NATO's oversight office that supports the Afghan government in its bid to broker peace.

Jones said the talks began about four months back and that government negotiators had made some headway with the Taliban interlocutors.

In Brussels, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said Monday that plans by Afghan President Hamid Karzai to announce the handover of combat responsibility to Afghan troops in some parts of the country will mark a "fresh start" for the country.

Karzai has said that March 21, the Afghan new year, will mark the date on which he will name the first provinces to fall under full Afghan control, after years in which NATO-led troops have borne the brunt of the fight against Taliban-linked insurgents.

But the violence continued Monday, when a NATO soldier, his interpreter and a civilian were killed in an attack in the centre of Kandahar, according to Zalmai Ayoubi, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

However, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) said in a statement that the deceased was not one of its service members, adding that two ISAF soldiers were among five wounded in the blast.

Kandahar is the spiritual home of the Taliban, who were forced out of several areas in the province in a NATO offensive last year. Most of the NATO troops stationed in the former Taliban stronghold are from the United States and Canada.

Separately, an ISAF soldier was killed in a roadside bomb in the south, the alliance said in a statement.

In the eastern province of Khost, unknown gunmen wearing uniforms of the Afghan army, killed an acting district governor for Bak, said provincial police chief Abdul Hakim Ishaqza.

There has been a recent increase in targeted killings by Taliban insurgents of government officials, teachers, tribal leaders and social workers.

ISAF said Monday that a child was accidentally killed during an anti-Taliban operation in Nad Ali district, in the volatile southern province of Helmand, a Taliban heartland.

Suspected Taliban militants torched a school in Helmand, the latest in a series of attacks against the country's education system that the insurgents deem un-Islamic, an official said Monday. No one was hurt in the attack, but half of the building was destroyed.

Karzai has been trying to broker peace with the Taliban and other militant groups that have been waging a bloody insurgency for several years.

The militants have so far rejected the government overtures, conditioning their participation in peace talk on the complete withdrawal of foreign troops from the country.

At a security conference in Munich on Sunday, Karzai said that he would reintegrate "as soon as possible" moderate members of the Taliban who accept the constitution and renounce terrorism.

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