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Talks between Afghan government and Taliban to begin next week

Four countries trying to end Afghanistan's 15-year war with the Taliban have announced that direct talks between the Afghan government and the insurgent group will take place next week.

Representatives of Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US met in the Afghan capital for a fourth round of discussions to set conditions for eventual peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban.

In a joint statement, they invited insurgents to join the talks, which will be the first between the two sides since the peace process was restarted last month. Efforts to bring the warring sides together last year were derailed when Kabul revealed that the Taliban's leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had been dead for more than two years.

The four countries have now "expressed strong support for the upcoming direct talks between the government of Afghanistan and authorised representatives of the Taliban and other groups". The talks will take place in Pakistan.

The delegations were led by Afghan deputy foreign minister Hekmat Khalil Karzai, Pakistan's foreign secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Chinese ambassador to Afghanistan Yao Jing, and US charge d'affaires in Kabul David Lindwall.

They said they would meet again immediately after the direct Kabul-Taliban talks.

It was the fourth meeting of the so-called Quadrilateral Co-operation Group which earlier called on the Taliban to enter peace talks with Kabul and work towards cutting violence that has killed thousands of Afghan civilians since the insurgency started almost 15 years ago.

It is believed that Taliban leaders, who fled across the Pakistan border to escape the 2001 US invasion, are being harboured by Pakistani authorities, in particular the ISI intelligence agency, in cities including Quetta, Karachi and Peshawar.

While Pakistan denies providing safe havens for the insurgents, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has led accusations that the Taliban is a proxy force for Islamabad's regional interests.

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