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Iran hosts Taliban peace talks

Afghanistan's Taliban has confirmed that it sent a delegation to Iran for three days of talks, signalling that Tehran could be seeking the role of regional mediator in negotiations to end its neighbour's 12-year war.

Spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said in an email that emissaries from the Taliban's political office met with Iranian officials over the weekend. He said a separate group of Taliban clerics attended a religious conference in Tehran.

An Iranian news agency said on Saturday that Tehran had hosted a Taliban delegation - an unprecedented development, since the Sunni Muslim Taliban have long been enemies of Iran's ruling Shiite clerics.

Mr Ahmadi also said the Taliban's political wing would accept any invitation for conferences, a possible good sign for so-far fruitless efforts to negotiate an end to the Afghan war.

Tentative peace talks have sputtered in the past, and the Taliban insurgents have recently launched a fierce offensive in a major test for security forces of President Hamid Karzai's government.

The Afghan army and police are this year fighting the insurgency with little or no help from international forces that have been in Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led invasion to topple the Taliban for sheltering al Qaida's terrorist leadership after the September 11 attacks on American soil.

Taliban fighters have been attacking police checkpoints in several provinces and have also unleashed suicide bombers to hit government targets and international agencies in the country. They have also littered the country's roads with homemade landmines and roadside bombs that often kill civilians.

On Monday, a landmine killed seven people in the eastern province of Laghman.

A statement from the provincial government said a group of four women and two children had gone with a male driver into the hills to collect firewood. On their way back, their vehicle hit the mine and all inside were killed.

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