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Taliban in Norway for informal talks

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Taliban in Norway for informal talks
Afghan MP Shukria Barekzai, thought to be one of the delegation holding talks in Oslo. Photo: Facebook
13:52 CEST+02:00
Members of Afghanistan's Taliban are in Norway for informal talks with representatives of Afghan society, the Norwegian government said on Thursday, in a new sign of a nascent dialogue.
According to Afghan and Norwegian media, the talks were expected to focus on women's rights in Afghanistan.
 
"We can confirm that Norway is hosting informal discussions with a number of Afghans from varied political backgrounds. The participants include a number of political officials and members of civil society, including women and members of the Taliban," foreign ministry spokesman Frode Andersen told
AFP.
   
"The participants are all here as individuals (and not as representatives of parties) and are expressing their personal opinions. The discussions have no official status and these are not negotiations," he added.
 
Repeated official efforts to bring the Taliban to the negotiating table have so far borne little fruit.
   
But informal talks, mostly involving Afghan lawmakers and civil society activists, have occurred in the recent past under a veil of secrecy even as the Taliban intensify their annual spring offensive.
   
In last month's informal talks in Qatar, the Taliban, condemned for their misogynistic ideology and lack of respect for human rights, pledged support for women's education and their right to work in "male-dominated professions", activists said.
   
Several other meetings have taken place in the past, including in Norway. But this time, the Afghan delegation is made up of mostly women, according to Afghan television 1TV.
   
The broadcaster said two members of Afghanistan's top peace negotiating body the High Peace Council (HPC), Hawa Alam Nuristani and Seddiqa Balkhi, and two members of parliament, Fawzia Koofi and Shukria Barekzai, were part of the delegation holding talks with two representatives of the Taliban's political office in Qatar.
 
   
But the HPC officially distanced itself from the talks in Norway.
   
"We are not aware of any meetings in Norway," senior HPC member Ismael Qasimyar told AFP, declining to comment further.
   
Koofi and Nuristani were out of the country, their private secretaries told AFP, without confirming if they were in Norway.
   
"It is still unclear what will be the agenda," Afghanistan's 1TV news quoted lawmaker Koofi as saying. "However, the issue of women's rights and their role in peace process and after negotiations are most likely."
   
Recent progress has been noted in the way the Taliban perceive women, according to Afghan rights activists. During the Taliban regime, women were not allowed to go out without a male chaperone and they were not allowed to hold down jobs.
   
Afghan authorities and the Taliban have begun a fragile dialogue in the hopes of ending a more than decade-long conflict, but the Taliban have set several conditions before the opening of real peace talks with Kabul, including the withdrawal of all foreign soldiers in Afghanistan.
   
The Norway talks, which are being held in the Oslo area, were scheduled to conclude on Friday, Norwegian public radio and television NRK reported.
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