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Afghanistan: New Helmand Governor Confirms Desire For Talks With Taliban

Governor Mangal in June 2006, when he was governor of Laghman Province (epa) The new governor of an embattled province in southern Afghanistan has confirmed his intention to negotiate with "second- and third-tier" Taliban to achieve greater security.

In an interview with RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan, Helmand Province Governor Golab Mangal insisted that his call for talks enjoys the support of President Hamid Karzai.

"From the authority point of view, I can say that I'm the representative of President Karzai in the province and the highest-ranking official," Mangal said. "What I do in Helmand is always according to the guidance of President Karzai and the independent regional organ. Under the law, there is no problem regarding [my] authority [to conduct such talks]."

The central government in Kabul has at times struggled to reconcile its stated desire to rehabilitate militants who disavow armed resistance with its effort to counter terrorism and deliver stability to beleaguered regions.

Mangal stressed that the invitation to talks excludes what he called top-tier Taliban, whom he described as "foreign-affiliated" and Al-Qaeda militants.

Helmand is among the country's most violent provinces, and lies in what is frequently referred to as a "poppy belt" that contributes to Afghanistan's massive opium trade.

Mullah Abdul Rahim Taliban, a Taliban militant who also claims to be the rightful governor of Helmand, insisted to Radio Free Afghanistan that the central government is divided over its approach to negotiations.

Abdul Rahim Taliban cited a difference of views between Karzai's closest political allies, on one hand, and officials with strong links to former mujahedin allied under the former United Front (aka Northern Alliance).

"As the respected governor of Helmand says that they are ready to conciliate with moderate or second- and third-ranking Taliban, I would like to say that we are one group, we have one leader and one voice," he said. "On the other side, they have no authority to negotiate freely with us. Even inside the government, they are separated in two groups -- one is Northern Alliance and the other is Karzai group. The Northern Alliance is absolutely opposed to talks with Taliban."