The UN said yesterday it was in talks with the Afghan government over a "misunderstanding" that led Kabul to order the expulsion of two senior European diplomats after claims they had contact with the Taliban.
The diplomats -- one from the EU and the other a UN official -- were ordered to leave and their Afghan colleagues were arrested, the Afghan government said on Tuesday.
The UN official, a British national who is a senior political adviser well-versed in Afghan affairs, would leave the country in the next 48 hours, UN spokesman Aleem Siddique said.
"We are hopeful he will be able to return swiftly so he can continue the important work that needs to take place in order to cement peace and stability and progress," Siddique said.
The EU was not available to comment directly on its staffer, an Irish national who has been in Afghanistan for several years, but European diplomats said he was also expected to leave on holidays.
Siddique said the affair was a misunderstanding that arose after the men visited the Helmand province town of Musa Qala, which was recaptured this month after 10 months under Taliban control.
The men had gone there in coordination with the Afghan government to assess "stabilization" efforts after the military offensive, he said.
They spoke with a range of locals, including "people who are perhaps undecided whether they are supportive of the government of Afghanistan," Siddique said.
"We have subsequently been informed that our presence in Helmand was detrimental to national security interests. We disagree with this assessment," he said.
"We view this as a misunderstanding between us and the government of Afghanistan," Siddique said.
"Efforts are ongoing in talks with the ministry of interior and ministry of foreign affairs so we can clarify what we are doing in Helmand province, so these people can stay here and do the important work they do," he said.
The UN spokesman flatly rejected there had been talks with Taliban insurgents.
"We do not talk to the Taliban -- full stop. That is not what we were in Helmand province to do," he said.
The UN was seeking meetings with government ministries to resolve the issue, Siddique said.
Asked to comment, foreign ministry spokesman Sultan Ahmad Baheen said internationals working in Afghanistan "have to observe our law."
"All the measures which the government of Afghanistan takes are according to its national and security interests," he said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai's office announced on Tuesday the two men, whose names are being withheld, were declared persona non grata because they had "posed threats to the national security of Afghanistan."
In Brussels, EU spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said: "We are in touch at a diplomatic level with the Afghan authorities. We are hoping for a resolution soon."
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