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British PM to meet with Afghanistan, Pakistan leaders

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

British Prime Minister David Cameron was Sunday to begin meeting with the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan for talks on supporting the Afghan peace process, as Britain prepares a withdrawal of troops.

Cameron was to host a private dinner with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari at his Chequers country retreat near London on Sunday evening before holding trilateral talks at the same venue on Monday.

Ahead of the meetings, Afghan officials on Sunday said that Taliban roadside bombs killed five civilians, including a family of four, and two police officers in the country's troubled south at the weekend.

Pakistan, the chief diplomatic backer of the Taliban when the group was in power before 2001, has been regularly accused by both Kabul and Washington of helping destabilise Afghanistan.

Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan remain uneasy, despite some recent improvements.

Monday's talks will be the third trilateral session since last year, after meetings in Kabul in July and in New York in September.

Back in December, Cameron announced Britain would withdraw 3,800 of Britain's 9,000 troops from Afghanistan in 2013, as NATO prepares for a full security handover to Afghan forces at the end of next year.

There are growing concerns that a civil war could erupt as the US-led NATO troops leave the country.

"The prime minister will host the leaders of Afghanistan and Pakistan at Chequers on Sunday and Monday as part of his ongoing efforts to help to strengthen Afghanistan-Pakistan relations, support an Afghan peace and reconciliation process and promote regional peace and stability," a spokesperson for Cameron's Downing Street office said on Saturday.

"For the first time, we will bring together the political and security establishments from both Afghanistan and Pakistan, with foreign ministers, chiefs of army staff, chiefs of intelligence and the chair of the Afghan High Peace Council attending the meeting.

"Discussions are expected to focus on the Afghan-led peace process and how the Pakistanis and international community can support it. We also expect the Afghans and Pakistanis to make further progress on the Strategic Partnership Agreement they committed to in September."

Karzai flew to London on Saturday for a three-day trip, during which time he will also meet Prince Charles, heir to the British throne.

"The talks in this summit will be focused on ways to accelerate peace process in Afghanistan and further strengthen cooperations between Afghanistan and Pakistan in the fight against terrorism and extremism," said a separate statement issued by Karzai's office.

Karzai last week accused foreign countries of plotting against his war-weary nation's peace programme, saying all negotiations should take place under his administration.

Without pointing a finger at any particular country, Karzai said he had told the US government during a recent visit to Washington that "no foreign party must try to take the Afghan peace process in its hand".

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130203/british-pm-meet-afghanistan-pakistan-leaders