|The US is in contact with the Taliban about a possible settlement to the war in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai said [Reuters]
The UN Security Council removed 14 former Taliban from its sanctions list as part of moves to induce the armed group into talks with the Afghan government on a peace deal in Afghanistan.
Those de-listed by a special sanctions committee included four members of a 70-strong High Peace Council set up by Afghan authorities last September to pave the way for talks, the German UN mission announced in a statement on Friday.
Germany holds the Security Council presidency this month.
The move came in response to a request from Kabul to take off the list a number of former Taliban figures that the government believes have given up militancy, according to the statement.
Afghan officials had said they were seeking the de-listing of about 20 people.
Some Security Council members, notably Russia, are more cautious about removing names.
The peace council members include: Arsalan Rahmani Daulat, a former Taliban deputy higher education minister; Habibullah Fawzi, a former Taliban diplomat in Saudi Arabia; Sayeedur Rahman Haqani, former Taliban deputy minister for mines and industries and later for public works; and Faqir Mohammad.
President Hamid Karzai's office has called the creation of the council a significant step towards peace. But the Taliban have so far scoffed at the idea of talks, saying all foreign forces must first leave Afghanistan.
The US is preparing to start pulling out its 97,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a process to hand over all combat operations against the Taliban to Afghan security forces by 2014.
In a statement, Germany's UN Ambassador Peter Wittig said the committee's decision "sends a strong signal: the Security Council and the international community support the efforts of the Afghan government to engage reconciled Taliban in a political dialogue in order to achieve peace and security".
"The international community recognizes efforts made by members of the High Peace Council to work toward peace, stability and reconciliation. All Afghans are encouraged to join these efforts. The message is clear: engaging for peace pays off," Wittig said.
The move comes four weeks after the Security Council decided to split what was previously a joint list of Taliban and al-Qaeda figures into two separate lists.
The split was intended to persuade Taliban waverers they were not being lumped together with the global al-Qaeda movement. Until Friday's decision, the Taliban list contained 137 names.
Those listed are subject to sanctions that include travel bans and asset freezes. The Afghan Taliban, which ruled the country before being driven from power by US-backed forces in 2001, was playing host to al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden when he launched the September 11 attacks on the US.
Separating the two movements has long been a Western goal.
Robert Gates, the former US defence decretary, last month said there could be political talks with the Taliban by the end of this year if the NATO alliance kept making military advances on the ground, putting pressure on the insurgents.