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Afghan peace negotiator killed

An assassin armed with a silenced gun has shot dead a top member of the Afghan peace council in Kabul.

Arsala Rahmani was a former Taliban official who reconciled with the government and was active in trying to set up formal talks with the insurgents.

He was shot at an intersection in western Kabul by a gunman in a white Toyota Corolla while being driven to his office, said Mohammad Zahir, head of the city police's criminal investigation division. He did not have a bodyguard with him at the time.

"Only one shot was fired," Mr Zahir said. "Our initial reports are that it was a pistol with a silencer. Mr Rahmani died on the way to the hospital."

The killing strikes another blow to efforts to negotiate a political resolution to the decade-long war. The Taliban denied responsibility for the killing, although they had earlier indicated they would target peace negotiators.

Mr Rahmani was one of about 70 influential Afghans and former Taliban appointed by President Hamid Karzai to try to convince insurgent leaders to reconcile with the government.

The US has backed the council's efforts to pull the Taliban into political discussions with Kabul as part of its strategy for reducing violence and turning over responsibility to Afghan forces so international combat troops can go home or move into support roles by the end of 2014.

But this effort suffered a major setback in September 2011 when former Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani, who was head of the peace council, was assassinated by a suicide bomber posing as a peace emissary from the Taliban.

On Twitter, the US Embassy in Kabul called the assassination of another peace council member "a tragedy". Afghan Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said work towards reconciliation with the Taliban would continue despite the killing.

Mr Rahmani, who was in his 70s, served as deputy minister of higher education during the Taliban regime, which ruled Afghanistan for five years and sheltered al-Qaida before being driven out of power in the US-led invasion in late 2001. He reconciled with the government established in Kabul after the Taliban's fall and subsequently served in parliament.

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