June 11, 2008 / 3:34 PM / in 12 years

Senate wants talks between troops, Taliban

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian troops and officials in southern Afghanistan should be allowed to talk to the Taliban if they believe this would help boost security and cut violence, a Senate committee said on Wednesday.

Canada’s 2,500-strong military mission in the southern city of Kandahar frequently clashes with militants. Since Ottawa sent troops to Afghanistan in 2002, 85 soldiers and one diplomat have been killed.

The Conservative government opposes contact with the Taliban until it renounces violence.

The Senate’s national security and defense committee dismissed this approach as unrealistic, saying it believed some Taliban supporters could be won over.

It said in a report that Ottawa should “allow Canadian forces soldiers and Canadian government officials operating in Kandahar to talk with members of the Taliban movement if communication encourages disarmament and/or ensures the security of development projects within the province.”

It added: “Every effort needs to be made to win over moderate Taliban supporters who are looking for evidence that there are better options than continued insurgency.”

Defence Minister Peter MacKay, who last month declared “We’re not having direct discussion with terrorists,” said there was no chance of talking to the militant group.

“We’re not in a situation now where we can have dialogue with the Taliban because the conflict is continuing,” he told reporters when asked about the committee’s report.

Ottawa announced on Tuesday it would increase aid to Afghanistan over the next three years and shift its focus toward development from military activity. The Canadian mission is due to end in 2011.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson

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