Wires

UPDATE 1-Taliban, Afghan officials say reach pact to reduce violence

Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Jibran Ahmad

(Adds quotes, confirmation by Taliban sources and context)

KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Afghan, international and Taliban forces will observe a seven-day period of reduced violence in Afghanistan beginning at midnight (1930 GMT), an Afghan official and Taliban leaders said on Friday.

The agreement was struck during protracted negotiations between U.S. and Taliban representatives that began in Qatar in 2018, and could lead to a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, they said.

"Based on the plan, the reduction in violence (RIV) will start between the Taliban and international and Afghan security forces for one week," Javid Faisal, spokesperson for the Afghan National Security Advisor, told Reuters.

"We hope it is extended for a longer time and opens the way for a ceasefire and intra-Afghan talks," he added.

Three senior Taliban leaders - two in Doha and one in Afghanistan - also confirmed to Reuters that they had agreed on reduction of violence in Afghanistan for seven days starting Friday night.

All three spoke on condition of anonymity. The Taliban is expected to make a formal announcement of the RIV later on Friday.

One Taliban leader based in Doha told Reuters that the period could not be called a "ceasefire."

"Every party has the right of self defense but there would no attacks on each others positions in these seven days, the Taliban leader said.

It is to create a security environment in Afghanistan and can be extended if things go well after signing of a peace accord with the U.S., he added.

Officials privy to the talks had said last week that an agreement with the Taliban would be followed by negotiations on an intra-Afghan political settlement between the Taliban and an Afghan delegation that would include government officials.

The Taliban have previously refused to speak directly to the Kabul government, which they denounce as a U.S. puppet.

Afghan forces will keep up normal military operations against other terrorist groups, such Daesh, or Islamic State, during the RIV period, Faisal said, adding that Afghan forces will also retaliate to the smallest violation of the understanding by the Taliban.

"Local government and security officials have been instructed by the president himself on how to follow the regulations agreed upon for the RIV period," he said.

U.S. officials were not immediately available for comment.

U.S. and Taliban negotiators have been meeting in Doha since 2018 even though fighting has raged in Afghanistan and thousands of civilians and combatants have been killed as the insurgents have expanded their territorial control. (Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad and Rupam Jain; Writing by Gibran Peshimam Editing by Shri Navaratnam and Raju Gopalakrishnan)