Karzai says ready for talks with Omar, Hekmatyar

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KABUL, Sep 29 (Reuters) Afghan President Hamid Karzai today said he would personally meet the Taliban's leader and the chief of another insurgent group for peace talks, but rejected preconditions such as a pullout of all foreign troops.

Back from a visit to the United States, Karzai said he had discussed the issue of talks with US President George W Bush and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Speaking to reporters at the presidential palace, Karzai said both leaders supported the idea.

''Afghanistan needs to have peace. Afghanistan needs to have stability,'' Karzai said.

''We must talk especially to those who are Afghans and want to settle back in their country ... It is an agenda that we are following, on which we also have an understanding among the Afghan people,'' he said.

Karzai, who has repeatedly offered peace talks, said he would personally meet with Taliban's fugitive leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, and Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, chief of another insurgent group. Both are wanted by the United States.

The president rejected reports that said the United States opposed holding talks with the Taliban. He said his government would make any decision to hold talks with insurgents, and the United States favoured talks with those militants who were not allied to al Qaeda.

''If I can find their address, there is no need for them to come. I myself will go and contact (them) and say to them 'respected Mawlavi ... and respected Hekmatyar ... why are you destroying this country. Do not destroy. What is your objection...?','' he said.

Karzai said he would allocate some government posts to the Taliban and if Hekmatyar and Omar wanted power, both could stand in the elections, due to be held in 2009.

''If you do not want power, then what are you doing? Do you want the foreigners (troops) to go out of Afghanistan? We will not let the foreigners to leave Afghanistan, that must be clear,'' he said.

He said the troops under the command of NATO and the US military are needed in Afghanistan until the country stands on its feet. Spokesmen for Omar and Hekmatyar could not be reached for comment.

But the spokesmen in the past have said the insurgents would only accept talks if all of the roughly 50,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan left first, a new constitution was accepted and a stricter interpretation of Islamic law imposed.

REUTERS SS KP1724

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