Afghan Taliban say 'unaware' of peace talks, no comment on Mullah Omar

Afghan Taliban say 'unaware' of peace talks, no comment on Mullah Omar
A file picture taken in Kandahar on an undisclosed date in 1996 shows a TV screengrab of footage taken secretly by BBC Newsnight which claims to show the Afghan Taliban's one-eyed leader Mullah Mohammed Omar during a rally for his troops in Kandahar.
PHOTO: AFP / BBC TV

KABUL - The Taliban Thursday rejected reports of any fresh round of peace talks expected this week with the Afghan government, while making no comment on Kabul's reported death of their leader Mullah Omar.

"Media outlets are circulating reports that peace talks will take place very soon... either in the country of China or Pakistan," the Taliban said in an English-language statement posted on their website.

"(Our) political office... are not aware of any such process." The statement marked the first comment from the group waging an almost 14-year insurgency in Afghanistan since Kabul on Wednesday reported that Mullah Omar died two years ago in Pakistan, citing "credible information".

The insurgents have not officially confirmed the death of their spiritual leader, who has not been seen publicly since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan that toppled the Taliban government in Kabul.

Rumours of Omar's ill-health and even death have regularly surfaced in the past, but Wednesday's claims from Kabul marked the first such confirmation from the Afghan government.

Omar's death would mark a significant blow to an almost 14-year Taliban insurgency, which is riven by internal divisions and threatened by the rise of the Islamic State group in South Asia.

The announcement had also cast doubt over the second round of peace talks, which were expected to kick off on Friday.

Afghan officials had pledged to press for a ceasefire in those negotiations.

Afghan officials sat down with Taliban cadres earlier this month in Murree, a tourist town in the hills north of the Pakistani capital Islamabad, for their first face-to-face talks aimed at ending the bloody insurgency.

They agreed to meet again in the coming weeks, drawing international praise, but many ground commanders openly questioned the legitimacy of the Taliban negotiators, exposing dangerous faultlines within the movement.

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