An upcoming intra-Afghan meeting in Turkey is an opportunity for the Afghan government and Taliban to reach terms on fundamental outstanding issues, the head of the UN’s support mission said on Tuesday.

Deborah Lyons told the Security Council that after meeting with the parties in Doha, Qatar earlier this month, she heard of “real substantive progress” on key issues from the Taliban and Afghan government amid the ongoing talks.

She maintained the talks in Istanbul planned for April present an opportunity “to solidify the principles upon which the process will be based, and potentially lay the foundation for a just and inclusive settlement that would complement the ongoing negotiations in Doha.”

“These initiatives must, however, be focused and coherent. Above all they must reinforce, rather than undermine the Afghanistan peace negotiations underway now in Doha,” she said.

The Istanbul peace talks are being planned amid a worrying escalation in violence in Afghanistan as journalists, civil society members and health workers have increasingly been the focus of targeted killings the UN has said may amount to war crimes.

Figures from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan suggest 3,035 civilians were killed and 5,785 injured in attacks in 2020, with a significant rise in assassinations since direct talks between Kabul and the Taliban began in September.

Adela Raz, Afghanistan’s UN envoy, said the Taliban is “directly targeting those who strive for a better future” through the killings.

“They are targeting our young democracy, our vibrant civil society, and our free and independent press. These attacks are meant to dissuade the participation of women and youth in the peace process, create widespread panic and crush our aspiration for peace,” she said.

Raz welcomed the upcoming Turkey talks, maintaining that Kabul stresses “the importance of an inclusive process, including the full, equal and meaningful participation of women, youth and civil society.”

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