KABUL, Afghanistan — Top Taliban officials have traveled to Norway for talks with Afghan government officials on Monday, two militants told NBC News.
"Our representatives led by Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, Qari Din Mohammad Hanif, Sher Mohammad and others already landed in Norway. They will have an important meetings with Afghan government officials ... during two days of peace talks in Norway," a Taliban official in the group's office in the Gulf kingdom of Qatar told NBC News speaking on condition of anonymity. A second Taliban official in the United Arab Emirates also said the group had sent a delegation to Oslo.
On Tuesday, an Afghan foreign ministry spokesman told Afghanistan's Tolo TV that a senior delegation was in Norway to participate in the Oslo Forum, an invitation-only event for peace mediators and others involved with trying to resolve armed conflict. He did not say whether or not they would meet with the Taliban while there.
The Afghan government has been struggling to start negotiations with the militants, who have continued to mount deadly attacks on the army, police and civilians.
On Monday, a representative of the Afghan government’s High Peace Council — which is trying to negotiate an end to the insurgency — played down the significance of any meetings with the Taliban but did not rule out the possibility that they were taking place.
"We at the High Peace Council do not support these kinds of meetings," peace council spokesman Ismael Qasemyar told NBC News. “Some members of the council might have been invited on personal capacity, but no official representatives of the council is present in this meeting.”
Late on Monday, the Taliban issued a statement confirming that a delegation had traveled to Norway it too but denied its officials would meet with government officials.
"We reject media reports that the Taliban delegation will meet face to face with representatives of Kabul regime," the statement said.
News of the talks come amid reports that battles between the Taliban and fighters loyal to ISIS have forced thousands from their homes in eastern Afghanistan.