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Taliban leader rejects call for peace talks with Afghan government

A senior Taliban officer is spurning calls for negotiation from Afghanistan's government, calling President Hamid Karzai a U.S. "puppet" amid rumblings that peace talks could be in the offing.

A senior Taliban officer is spurning calls for negotiation from Afghanistan's government, calling President Hamid Karzai a U.S. "puppet" amid rumblings that peace talks could be in the offing.

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

Karzai, delivering a message to commemorate the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr on Tuesday, had called for Saudi Arabian head of state King Abdullah to help moderate peace talks between insurgents and the government.

But Karzai had no right to negotiate, said Brother.

"He only says and does what he is told by America," he said.

His comments appear to contradict remarks he made in March, when he suggested the Taliban could co-operate with the Afghan government and called for a negotiated ending 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.

During his interview Friday, he repeated his pledge to continue fighting until all 70,000 NATO and U.S. troops stationed in Afghanistan leave.

Karzai pledges protection during talks

In his message earlier this week, Karzai said his government was trying to push militants to lay down their arms.

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'The Taliban had previously been receptive to the idea of talks and what this tells me is that they sense victory is not far off.'

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He would protect any Taliban or other militant leaders from U.S. and NATO troops if they came back to Afghanistan for peace talks, he said.

He also called for fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar to return to Afghanistan to engage in talks.

Omar, who went into hiding seven years ago, also released a message Tuesday that called Afghanistan security forces thieves, smugglers and criminals not worthy of people's trust and calling on foreign troops to leave the country.

There are about 2,500 Canadian troops serving in Afghanistan, mostly in the southern province of Kandahar. Prime Minister Stephen Harper pledged earlier this month to withdraw most of its combat forces from Afghanistan by 2011.

With files from Reuters