The U.N.'s new representative to war-torn Afghanistan said Wednesday that he was encouraged by widespread discussion about prospects for making peace with the Taliban.
Jan Kubis, the new special representative of the U.N. Secretary-General, said that he thinks the Afghan people are tired of the 10-year war and are interested in supporting steps that would bring more stability and eventually peace to Afghanistan.
"Political forces are discussing it. The parliament is discussing it. Civil society is discussing it at all levels _ not only at the top level, but in the provinces," said Kubis, who arrived in Afghanistan about a week ago and has been meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and other top Afghan and international officials. "People are trying to understand what can we do to support this."
The U.S. has engaged in talks with Taliban figures, and the Afghan government and other regional players have also opened lines of communication with the insurgency as a way to find a political resolution to the war.
Kubis said that no major, relevant party can be excluded from the discussion.
He cautioned that the country was still dangerous.
"It's obvious to everyone that the security situation is still volatile," Kubis said. "Unfortunately, suicide and terrorist attacks are a part of the life here. What is tragic and sad is that unfortunately, suicide attacks are targeting, indiscriminately, civilians, including children and women.
Kubis said his priorities were to link security and development, promote reconciliation and work on issues related to governance, human rights, election and legal reforms.
Kubis arrives as international development assistance is declining and foreign combat forces have started to withdraw _ a gradual process that is to be completed by the end of 2014.
Some countries, including France, are under domestic political pressure to pull out of the unpopular war early.
France halted its training programs for the Afghan military and threatened to withdraw its forces earlier than planned after an Afghan soldier shot and killed four French troops last Friday in eastern Afghanistan.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy honored the four at a ceremony Wednesday in the southeastern town of Varces. Sarkozy said the troops gunned down were victims of a Taliban rebel who had infiltrated a military base stationed jointly by French and Afghan forces.
"Four of our soldiers were shot in Afghanistan, victims of the most cowardly of crimes," he said in remarks aired on French TV. "While unarmed, they were slaughtered by a Taliban wearing the uniform of an ally's army."
The attacker is in custody. Afghan authorities have not identified him as an insurgent infiltrator, and an Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman said Wednesday his motives are not yet clear. France is sending a team of investigators to assist the inquiry.
Top French officials in recent days have sought to dispel concerns abroad about a possible crack in the NATO-led alliance in Afghanistan and a hasty exit by France. Prime Minister Francois Fillon told parliament Tuesday that France is keeping to plans to withdraw 600 troops this year _ in line with its previous schedule pegged in part to a gradual U.S.-led withdrawal by 2014.
France currently has about 3,600 troops in Afghanistan, the fourth-largest national contingent in the coalition force. France has lost 92 troops since 2001. The total alliance death toll is nearly 2,560 _ most of them Americans.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai is scheduled to visit France on Friday and meet with Sarkozy.
Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi said Wednesday that an investigation is ongoing into the attack on the French. He would not confirm speculation that the attack was motivated by a video purporting to show U.S. Marines desecrating Taliban insurgents' bodies, or for some other reason.
He said the Afghan attacker is 21 years old and had been in the Afghan National Army less than three months.
The attack was latest of several by an Afghan soldier on international troops working with the army. There have been more than a dozen such turncoat attacks in two years, although the U.S.-led coalition says they are isolated incidents that do not point to a wider trend or to organized Taliban infiltration.
The NATO force in Afghanistan said one of the coalition's service members was killed by a roadside bomb on Wednesday in the country's volatile south. The statement gave no further details, including the nationality of the service member.
Associated Press writers Jamey Keaton in Paris, and Kay Johnson and Massieh Neshat in Kabul contributed to this report.