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Direct talks with Taliban 'expected' by end of February

Officials from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US have called for a political settlement to end the conflict in Afghanistan. The move comes as the Taliban has stepped up its campaign of violence across the country.

Officials from the Quadrilateral Coordination Group (QCG), comprising delegates from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China and the US, said on Saturday that direct peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban militant group are "expected to take place" within weeks.

"Towards this end, the QCG countries agreed to continue joint efforts for setting a date for direct peace talks between the representatives of the Afghan government and Taliban groups expected to take place by the end of February 2016," the group said in a statement.

The announcement comes as the militant group has stepped up a winter campaign of violence, including targeting government and international forces as well as members of the press.

"The Group stressed that the outcome of the reconciliation process should be a political settlement that results in the cessation of violence, and durable peace in Afghanistan," said the statement.

The QCG also "called on all Taliban groups to join the peace talks."

The Taliban split when it belatedly announced the death of its founder Mullah Omar in July, which abruptly ended peace talks with Kabul that were allegedly backed by the late leader.

The militant group was driven from power in 2001 by US-led NATO forces after which it launched a vehement military offensive against foreign and government forces.

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ls/sms (AFP, AP, dpa)

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