Afghan peace talks to begin on Saturday in Doha

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KABUL (Reuters) - Negotiating teams representing the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents held a preparatory meeting on Wednesday in the Qatari capital Doha, with talks on a peacemaking agenda to begin on Saturday, both sides said.

Talks have begun just as U.S. forces prepare for another round of troop withdrawals from Afghanistan this month - in line with an agreement with the Islamist Taliban last year.

The agreement envisages the United States and its military coalition partners pulling troops out of Afghanistan and ending a 19-year war in exchange for Taliban security guarantees.

The negotiating teams met following a three-week break after striking an initial procedural deal in December, and are expected to cover contentious issues such as power-sharing and a ceasefire in this round of talks.

"The second round of intra-Afghan talks started this evening during a preparatory meeting," Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said on Twitter. It was decided the teams would begin substantive discussions on Saturday, he added.

The Afghan government-appointed team shared the same message on Twitter.

The beginning of the second round of talks has been welcomed internationally, including by the United Nations and NATO.

(Reporting Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Writing by Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Mark Heinrich)