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Afghan officials hold rare talks with Taliban near Paris

Afghan government officials met with representatives of the Taliban and another rebel group at an undisclosed venue near Paris on Thursday for two days of secretive talks aimed at ending the conflict in Afghanistan.

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Afghan officials met with Taliban rebels and envoys from another Islamist militant group near Paris on Thursday to discuss ways to end the fighting in Afghanistan and prepare for a future without NATO troops.

French hosts say the secretive meeting among rival Afghans in Chantilly, a town famed for its castle and racecourse, is not expected to involve any horse-trading toward a possible peace and reconciliation deal.

About 20 representatives from President Hamid Karzai’s government, the Taliban, the political opposition and the Islamist Hezb-i-Islami militant group were due to begin tentative talks after 11 years of war.

Afghan political analyst Waheed Mujda told French radio station RFI on Wednesday that “the seniority of the Taliban representatives being sent, which includes their former ambassador to Saudi Arabia, shows that they’re taking these talks seriously”. According to Mujda, the Taliban consider the talks “an opportunity to lay out their vision of the future of Afghanistan”.

Earlier this week the UN Security Council lifted a travel ban on several Taliban officials, some of whom were expected to attend the talks in Chantilly.

The meeting comes as France is pulling its last combat troops from Afghanistan – well ahead of NATO’s 2014 target date for withdrawal.

With much of the country still prey to fighting, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has stepped up attempts to persuade the Taliban to end the violence and join the political reconciliation. The last Taliban "trust-building" talks, hosted by Qatar in March, failed to produce results.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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