LONDON (AFP) — British intelligence agents held secret talks with Taliban leaders on several occasions this year, the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Wednesday.
Officers from MI6 met senior insurgents in the middle of the year, the paper said, quoting an unidentified intelligence source.
The United Nations is currently in negotiations with the Afghan government to try to stop the expulsion of two senior European diplomats amid allegations that they had contact with the Taliban.
"The SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) officers were understood to have sought peace directly with the Taliban with them coming across as some sort of armed militia," the intelligence source told the Daily Telegraph.
"The British would also provide 'mentoring' for the Taliban."
The meetings -- of which there were up to six -- took place in houses on the outskirts of Lashkah Gah and in villages in the Upper Gereshk valley in southern Afghanistan, the paper said.
British infantry provided a security cordon and the meetings took place in the presence of Afghan officials, it added.
"These meetings were with up to a dozen Taliban or with Taliban who had only recently laid down their arms," its source said. "The impression was that these were important motivating figures inside the Taliban."
Earlier this month, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown ruled out direct talks with Taliban insurgents, telling the House of Commons: "I make it clear that we will not enter into any negotiations with these people."
But he backed Afghan President Hamid Karzai's reconcilation efforts, saying that former insurgents who renounced violence had a place in society.
In response to the Daily Telegraph's report, a spokeswoman for the Foreign Office in London would only say: "We do not comment on intelligence matters."
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