Afghanistan EU Union, UN officials for meeting with Taliban

President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, says the two were "involved in some activities that were not their jobs."

afghanistan un 224 88 (photo credit: AP)
afghanistan un 224 88
(photo credit: AP)
The Afghan government expelled two senior diplomats from the UN and European Union on Thursday after accusing them of holding unauthorized meetings with Taliban militants in Afghanistan's volatile south, officials said. The diplomats - one worked for the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan and the other was the acting head of the European Union mission - had traveled to Musa Qala in the southern Helmand province on Monday, where they met with local leaders, said Aleem Siddique, a spokesman for the UN mission. After that trip the two were accused of meeting with Taliban militants and were told to leave the country, according to Afghan and Western officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. They left the country on Thursday, Siddique said. President Hamid Karzai's spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said the two were "involved in some activities that were not their jobs." An official at EU headquarters in Brussels confirmed that the EU official expelled is Michael Semple, deputy EU representative. Semple is Irish. The official, who spoke on condition he not be identified because of the sensitive nature of diplomatic relations, labeled the incident a "misunderstanding." The UN official asked to leave the country, Marvyn Patterson, is British, from Northern Ireland. The Afghan government, and particularly Karzai, has voiced a growing interest in meeting with Taliban leaders to try to persuade them to join the government and put down their arms. But the diplomats' expulsion will make some Western nations and international organizations wary of making their own overtures to the militants in an effort to end the insurgency, which has left over 6,300 people - mostly militants - dead this year alone. British, Afghan and US forces retook Musa Qala from Taliban militants earlier this month. Afghan and western officials moved quickly into the town to extend governance to an area where the Taliban ran its own court system and collected taxes. "We were in Helmand province to talk to the people on the ground, to understand from the people on the ground what their needs are, what their concerns are, and that includes people who are perhaps less than supportive of the government of Afghanistan," Siddique said. Siddique said talks were continuing to secure the return of the two diplomats, who have years of experience in Afghanistan, speak the local languages and know the country's complex tribal structures. "Discussions are ongoing with the Afghan authorities to seek the return of (the UN) official so that we can continue with the important work of building peace in Afghanistan," Siddique said.