UN splits Al-Qaeda and Taliban on sanctions list

United Nations – The UN Security Council on Friday split the international sanctions regime for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to encourage the Taliban to join reconciliation efforts in Afghanistan.

The council unanimously passed two resolutions which set up one new blacklist of individuals and organizations accused of links to Al-Qaeda and a second for those linked to the Taliban militia.

The two groups have until now been handled by the same sanctions committee. But the international powers wanted to separate them to highlight the divide between Al-Qaeda's global jihadist agenda and the Taliban's focus on Afghanistan.

The new resolutions, 1988 and 1989, send "a clear message to the Taliban that there is a future for those who separate from Al-Qaeda, renounce violence and abide by the Afghan constitution," said Susan Rice, UN envoy for the United States, which led the campaign for the division.

Peter Wittig, Germany's UN ambassador who heads the Security Council anti-terrorism sanctions committee, said the resolution sends "a strong signal of trust and support for the peace and reconciliation efforts of the government of Afghanistan."

US President Barack Obama has set July as the target date to start cutting the 100,000 American troops in Afghanistan and Defense Secretary Robert Gates said this month there could be talks with the Taliban before the end of the year.

The new sanctions regime for those who pose "a threat to the peace, stability and security of Afghanistan" gives the Afghan government a say in the listing and delisting of accused militants. An ombudsman also gets extra powers to recommend delistings.

The Security Council will have to vote unanimously to keep a person on a sanctions list if the ombudsman has recommended the name be taken off.

Wittig called the changes a "major advance."

While all 15 council measures backed the resolutions, India and Russia said there must be no easing up in the international fight against terrorism.

"There must be no slackening of efforts to fight both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban," said Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin.

Separately, the Security Council's sanctions committee is considering taking about 20 former Taliban commanders off the UN blacklist.

The Afghan government had originally advanced about 50 names but withdrew many because it did not have the paperwork to back up the case, diplomats said. A decision on those still waiting will be taken in mid-July.

The remaining list includes five members of Afghan President Hamid Karzai's Higher Council of Peace, which he set up last year to seek peace talks with Afghanistan's former hardline rulers.

One of them, Mohammed Qalamuddin, was once head of the Taliban's feared religious police.

There are 135 Taliban names facing sanctions. The 254 long Al-Qaeda list was cut by two this week following recommendations from an ombudsman.

One Sudanese-Canadian, Abousfian Abdelrazik, 49, went to the Security Council with a delegation of Canadian civic and labor groups in a bid to get his name taken off the Al-Qaeda list.

Abdelrazik has been on the UN list since 2006 and subject to an asset freeze and travel ban. Detained after travelling to Khartoum on what he said was a trip to see his ailing mother in 2003, he has denied any links to Al-Qaeda.

"Since my name has been on that list no one has given me any evidence about what I am supposed to have done wrong," he said after meeting sanctions committee officials in New York.

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