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Afghan clerics say no holy war on foreign troops

Written by: Staff
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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, May 13 (Reuters) A pro-government council of Afghan Islamic clerics today said Muslim holy war against foreign troops was not allowed and those who shunned reconciliation with the government were rebels.

The Islamic council in the southern province of Kandahar issued a fatwa, or decree, rejecting fatwas issued by Taliban insurgents, including a call for jihad, or holy war, against foreign forces.

''We cannot call foreign troops invaders ... jihad against them is not allowed,'' Ghulam Mohammad, head of the clerics' council, told a news conference in Kandahar town.

The Taliban, ousted from power in late 2001, have intensified their insurgency to expel foreign troops and bring down the Western-backed government in recent months.

Several clerics who have spoken out against the Taliban have been killed over the past few years.

Mohammad said foreign forces were in Afghanistan to help the elected government of President Hamid Karzai.

''Those who do not accept Karzai's government are rebels,'' he said.

''Those who do not accept the reconciliation process are rebels,'' he said, referring to government attempts to persuade Taliban to give up and rejoin society.

Few Taliban have accepted the offer and security in some parts of the country is the worst it has been since 2001.

The Taliban are expected to step up attacks on foreign forces as more move into the south under a NATO plan to expand its peacekeeping force from 9,000 to about 16,000.

The United States has 23,000 troops in Afghanistan, the highest number since US forces attacked Afghanistan in 2001, weeks after the September 11 attacks.

Thirty foreign soldiers have been killed in combat this year, 23 of them American.

REUTERS OM RN1544

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