OSLO: Western diplomats Tuesday linked humanitarian aid to Afghanistan to an improvement in human rights after meeting a Taliban delegation on a landmark visit to Europe.
On the final day of the first official trip to Europe since returning to power in August, the Taliban held talks behind closed doors with several Western diplomats, seeking international recognition and financial aid.
The European Union´s special envoy to Afghanistan, Tomas Niklasson, wrote on Twitter that he had "underlined the need for primary and secondary schools to be accessible for boys and girls throughout the country when the school year starts in March".
He was responding to a tweet from a spokesman for the Afghan foreign ministry hailing the EU´s commitment to "continue its humanitarian aid to Afghanistan". The Taliban delegation, led by Foreign Minister Amir Khan Muttaqi, met senior French foreign ministry official Bertrand Lotholary, Britain´s special envoy Nigel Casey, and members of the Norwegian foreign ministry.
At the United Nations in New York, Norwegian Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Store said the talks appeared to have been "serious" and "genuine". "We made clear we want to see girls back in school in March, also those above 12. We want to see humanitarian access," he said. The Taliban have hailed this week´s talks -- held in a hotel near Oslo -- as a step toward international recognition. The Taliban foreign minister, speaking on the sidelines of Monday´s talks, said: "Norway providing us this opportunity is an achievement in itself because we shared the stage with the world." "From these meetings, we are sure of getting support for Afghanistan’s humanitarian, health and education sectors," he added.
sThe Norwegian prime minister said he knew many were troubled by the meeting in Oslo but said it was the first step to avoid "humanitarian disaster". "The alternative to leave Afghanistan, one million children, at the danger of starving... that is no option. We have to deal with the world as it is."
Norwegian state secretary Henrik Thune earlier said: "This is not the beginning of an... open-ended process." "We are going to place tangible demands that we can follow up on and see if they have been met", he told Norwegian news agency NTB ahead of his talks with the delegation on Tuesday evening. Following the talks, the Taliban left Norway late Tuesday without making any further statements.
Meanwhile, the head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, told AFP before sitting down with the Taliban and other non-governmental organisations: "We cannot save lives unless all the sanctions are lifted."
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