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Afghan President Calls On Taliban To Join Peace Process

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani (L) pose for pictures during their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 29, 2014.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has urged the Taliban to join in reconciliation talks, a call that was echoed by China's prime minister.

Ghani was speaking on October 31 at a regional conference on Afghanistan hosted by China.

The new Afghan president said, "Peace is out highest priority" and then invited what he called Afghanistan's political opposition, "particularly the Taliban," to participate in inter-Afghan dialogue.

But Ghani warned, "We must not and will not permit groups pursuing grand illusions to use our country as the battleground or launching pad against the international system."

Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang also called for all the different political groups in Afghanistan to "lay aside former enmity and join the political reconciliation process."

Li also pledged some $244 million to help train Afghan people to take up jobs in various professions and provide 500 scholarships for Afghan students to study in China.

China said on October 29 it would provide $330 million in grants to Afghanistan along with professional training and scholarships for 3,500 Afghans over the next five years.

China is a key investor in Afghanistan, which has an estimated $1 trillion worth of mineral resources, and has secured major oil and copper mining deals there.

Afghanistan and China share a 76-kilometer border between the remote, mountainous Wakhan Corridor and China's far western Xinjiang region.

Hailing the conference as "a success," Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that under a "Beijing Declaration" the participants agreed to start 64 programs covering issues such as trade, investment, infrastructure, disaster management, and education.

The projects would help Afghanistan to develop and keep the peace without outside assistance, Wang said.

This fourth ministerial conference of the Istanbul Process on Afghanistan is being attended by representatives from more than 30 countries and regional organizations, including Afghanistan's neighbors -- Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan -- as well as the UN special representative for Afghanistan, Jan Kubis.

There are rising concerns about Afghanistan as foreign forces complete a drastic reduction in the number of troops in the country with an eye toward having all their troops out within the next few years.

China is particularly worried about the potential for contact between militant groups in Afghanistan and Uyghur separatist groups in China's western Xinjiang region.

The Uyghurs are a Turkic Muslim people and some members of the community have been captured or killed in Afghanistan and Pakistan's tribal areas during the last 13 years.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Xinhua, and dpa

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