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Taliban Leader Rejects Talks With Afghan Government

Afghan President Hamid Karzai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai

SPIN BOLDAK, Afghanistan (Reuters) -- A senior Taliban commander has rejected reconciliation with what he called the "puppet" Afghan government, the latest in a series of pronouncements from both sides on potential peace talks.

While violence has increased to its worst level since 2001, neither side has managed to break the strategic stalemate and gain a clear advantage, leading many to call for talks to end the conflict and bring the Taliban into peaceful politics.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai said this week he had asked the king of Saudi Arabia to mediate in talks with the insurgents and called on Taliban leader Mullah Omar to return to his homeland and to make peace.

But Karzai's plea appeared to have fallen on deaf ears and was rejected by a senior Taliban leader.

"We reject an offer for negotiation by the Afghan's puppet and slave President Hamid Karzai," Mullah Brother told Reuters by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location.

He said Karzai had no right to negotiate. "He only says and does what he is told by America."

The harsh rhetoric against Karzai is a departure from recent Taliban statements which have taken a softer line on the pro-Western president who has led Afghanistan since U.S.-led and Afghan forces toppled the Taliban after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

It also appears to reverse a statement by Brother in March in which he said the Taliban could cooperate with Karzai's government and called for a negotiated end to the fighting.

Brother served as a top military commander while the Taliban were in power in Afghanistan in the late 1990s and is now one of the movement's senior leaders.

He repeated the Taliban's war aim of fighting till the more than 70,000 U.S. and NATO troops were driven from the country and said the insurgents would not negotiate while there were still foreign troops on Afghan soil.