Expelled diplomats leave Afghanistan
Haroon Siddique and agencies
Thursday December 27, 2007
Two senior western diplomats have today been deported from Afghanistan after their formal expulsion for allegedly talking to the Taliban.
The pair flew out on the same plane early this morning after two days of negotiations failed to resolve a row over their activities.
The EU's acting mission head in Kabul, Michael Semple, who is Irish, and Mervyn Patterson, a senior UN official understood to be a Briton from Belfast, had visited Musa Qala in Helmand province on Monday.
The pair spoke to local leaders in the town, which was recaptured from the Taliban by British and Afghan troops two weeks ago after fierce fighting.
An Afghan government official said their trip was "detrimental to the national security of the country".
"Not only did they hold talks with the Taliban but also had given them money. They are persona non grata."
A western official told the Guardian that the initial complaint had come from the governor of Helmand province, Asudallah Wafa.
Both the EU and UN have said the row was a misunderstanding. The UN said today that the talks were part of a process of reconnecting with people of all persuasions including "disaffected tribes and communities", but insisted that did not include the Taliban or terrorists.
The UN said it would work to ensure its official was allowed back into the country as soon as possible.
Aleem Siddique, the senior UN spokesman in Afghanistan, said: "I can confirm that one staff member has now left the country following a request from the government of Afghanistan.
"Negotiations are ongoing with the government of Afghanistan to ensure his return so that we can continue with the vital work of building peace in this country."
He denied that the men had held talks with the Taliban. "There is a miscommunication between the authorities in Helmand province and the central government, and that's what we're trying to clear up," said Siddique.
Both men have years of experience in Afghanistan. Semple is an expert on the country's complex tribal politics. Five years ago, after the Taliban regime was overthrown, Patterson was instrumental in negotiating with powerful tribal leaders - often allied to hardline Taliban elements - in the north.
The diplomatic row coincided with claims that MI6 officers have held secret peace talks with senior Taliban insurgents. The Foreign Office said it would not comment on intelligence matters, but officials in London are acutely aware of the past role members of the secret intelligence service have played in talking to terrorists.
"We support the Afghan government's efforts at political reconciliation by engaging with those who are prepared to leave or who have left the Taliban," one said. But public policy is unequivocal. Brown told the Commons two weeks ago: "We are isolating and eliminating the leadership of the Taliban; we are not negotiating with them."
Special report: Afghanistan
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