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Afghan peace gathering continues despite Taliban attack

From Nic Robertson, CNN
Delegates look on as Afghan President Hamid Karzai delivers a speech to the National Consultive Peace Jirga in Kabul on Wednesday.
Delegates look on as Afghan President Hamid Karzai delivers a speech to the National Consultive Peace Jirga in Kabul on Wednesday.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Peace gathering continues despite Taliban attack
  • UN envoy warns of more trouble
  • Taliban not the only ones boycotting talks
  • Ex-presidential contender calls it PR ploy
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Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Undeterred by an attack on their gathering a day earlier, hundreds of Afghan tribal and religious leaders were meeting again on Thursday with Western diplomats and the country's lawmakers as they debate how best to negotiate with the Taliban.

The peace gathering, or jirga, was rattled Wednesday when a rocket whistled in within minutes of President Hamid Karzai's opening remarks to 1,600 delegates.

"Not to worry, it's OK," Karzai told the leaders.

But then came the sounds of explosions, and soon after an intense gun battle broke out near the gathering.

In the end, two people -- described by police as suicide bombers -- were killed and one arrested in connected with the attack.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, calling the gathering a " foreign scripted peace jirga."

President Karzai's spokesman was quick to play down the attack, in which delegates were not hurt.

"They fired a couple of rockets from some where that didn't land anywhere and everything is alright," said Karzai's spokesman, Wahid Omar.

The United Nation's top envoy in the region was inside the tent at the time of the attack. He warned of more trouble on the path to peace.

"This is a stepping stone," said Staffan de Mistura. "Imagine a lake and the water is going to be very rough moving across."

Karzai planned the critical peace gathering to discuss a reintegration plan for Taliban members who renounce violence and lay down their arms.

But the Taliban aren't the only ones distancing themselves from the talks.

The runner-up in last year's presidential elections, Abdullah Abdullah, turned down his invitation, calling the jirga an unrepresentative sample of Afghans. It was, he said, more public relations than peace-making.

A former Taliban leader said the real problem is the jirga has no power to address the group's biggest grievance.

"The occupation," said Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef. "The presence of Americans and their bases and their allies, this is the main problem. If they are not talking about the main problem, how are they encouraging the Taliban."

 
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