Taliban chief offers safe exit to allied forces

         Afghan president denies reports of negotiations with Taliban

   Assures protection to Taliban if they come back for talks

KABUL: Afghan President Hamid Karzai has made a call for peace to Taliban leader Mullah Omar and has asked the king of Saudi Arabia to help in talks with the group responsible for a surge in violence.

Karzai’s plea comes hours after Omar urged United States and NATO forces in Afghanistan to withdraw or face a similar defeat to occupying Soviet troops a generation ago.

“A few days ago I called upon their leader, Mullah Omar, and said ‘My brother, my dear, come back to your homeland, come and work for the peace and good of your people and stop killing your brothers’,” Karzai told reporters on Tuesday.

Earlier, a Taliban spokesman told Reuters that Omar had said, “Reconsider your wrong decision of wrong occupation, and seek a safe exit to withdraw your forces.”

If the occupation persisted, “you will be defeated in all parts of the world … like the former Soviet Union”, Omar said.

Karzai denied reports that negotiations with the Taliban had taken place in Saudi Arabia, but said he had written to the Saudi king to ask him to help bring peace to Afghanistan and the region.

Britain’s Observer newspaper said on Sunday that peace talks with the Taliban group were being mediated by Saudi Arabia and backed by Britain. Karzai rejected the claim saying the article was incorrect.

Deny: The Taliban leadership on Monday also denied the report that they were negotiating with the Afghan government to end the war and repeated their pledge to keep fighting.

“There have been no negotiations in Saudi Arabia. If any negotiations take place, it will be in our own land,” Karzai said after prayers on the first day of celebrations following the fasting month of Ramadan.

Protection: Karzai also said he would assure the protection of Mullah Omar and other Taliban members who wished to make peace with international forces in Afghanistan.

“They should come back and not be afraid of the foreigners. I will stand in front of the foreigners,” said Karzai.

Omar’s exact whereabouts is not known but he is thought to be hiding in the mountainous area straddling the Afghan-Pakistan border. US officials say he is in Pakistan’s border areas next to Afghanistan from where he directs insurgency operations across the border, a claim Pakistan has consistently denied. Reuters, daily times

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