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Afghan Minister Won't Confirm Taliban Talks

KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghanistan's foreign minister has declined to confirm a report that said the government was in contact with Taliban insurgents to negotiate an end to the conflict.

Britain's "The Observer" newspaper on September 28 reported that the "unprecedented talks" involved a senior ex-Taliban member traveling between Kabul, the bases of the Taliban senior leadership in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and European capitals.

"I cannot say anything about the matter that talks between the Taliban and Afghans...are going on," Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta told a news conference when asked to comment about the report.

"I deny there is any contact between the Foreign Ministry and the Taliban about the negotiations," he said when asked for elaboration.

"I do not confirm such contacts," he said when pressed if any other government organ was involved in any such process. After the news conference, he said with a smile he would have news on this in coming days.

The report came as the Taliban have extended the scope and size of their insurgency this year, the bloodiest period since U.S.-led and Afghan forces ousted the austere Islamist movement in 2001.

Western leaders and diplomats stress the war in Afghanistan, where more than 71,000 foreign troops are based, cannot be won militarily.

But talks with the Taliban had proven problematic.

"They keep changing what they are asking for. One day it is one thing, the next another," "The Observer" quoted one Afghan government adviser with knowledge of the negotiations as saying.

One aim of the initiative is to drive a wedge between Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the paper said.

Britain has provided logistic and diplomatic support for the talks -- despite official statements that negotiations can be held only with Taliban member who are ready to renounce, or have renounced, violence, it added.