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Next round of Afghan peace talks will begin on January 5 in Doha: Official

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The next round of negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government will be held in Qatar from next month, a top official said Sunday, despite President Ashraf Ghani’s recent calls for them to be moved home.

Peace talks began on September 12 at a luxury hotel in Doha, but negotiations are currently on a break until January 5.

“The second round of talks will begin on January 5 in Doha,” said Faraidoon Khwazoon, spokesman for Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, which is leading the overall peace process in the country.

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“The leadership committee of the council … decided to hold the talks in Doha,” he tweeted, adding that many of the countries that had earlier volunteered to host the talks withdrew their offers because of COVID-19.

In a separate statement, the presidency tweeted that Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah, who heads the council, held a meeting on Sunday.

The two “discussed the venue for the next round of talks” after which Ghani announced the government’s support for a second stage of talks with the Taliban, the presidency said.

Earlier in December, negotiators from both sides decided to take a break after months of often frustrating meetings which were bogged down by disputes on the basic framework of discussions and religious interpretations.

Prior to going on the break, negotiators finally announced they were ready to proceed on preliminary lists of agenda items when talks resumed on January 5.

But Ghani and some other top Afghan officials immediately called for the next round of meetings to be held in Afghanistan.

“It is not appropriate to insist on holding talks in luxurious hotels. It is necessary that the people see how the talks happen, which issues are focused on and why,” Ghani said soon after the break in talks was announced.

The Taliban did not comment on Ghani’s call, but they have in the past always refused to hold the negotiations in Afghanistan.

The insurgent group has a political office in Doha and its negotiating team resides there.

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The talks follow a landmark troop withdrawal deal signed in February by the Taliban and Washington, which will see all foreign soldiers leave the violence-wracked country by May next year.

Plans for renewed negotiations come amid a surge of violence across Afghanistan in recent months, including in Kabul, which has seen regular bomb attacks and targeted killings of prominent figures.