A rocket attack near the luxury Serena Hotel in Kabul has injured four people, including two members of the Afghan security forces, a spokesman for Afghanistan's health ministry said yesterday.

One rocket hit the wall of the five-star hotel in downtown Kabul at 2.45 p.m., Ahmad Farid Raaid, health ministry spokesman, told AFP.

Zamarai Bashary, spokesman for the interior ministry, said: "It was a rocket that hit in front of the Rabia Balkhi hospital. We have four wounded, three are civilians and one is a police officer."

Two of the injured civilians were women, he said.

The Serena Hotel, owned by the Aga Khan, was attacked in January 2008 by a commander of the Taliban, with the deaths of eight people.

It is Kabul's only five-star hotel and has been heavily-fortified since the 2008 attack. It is the hotel of choice for visiting VIPs.

It is occasionally shelled, most recently on October 28, the same day that a UN guesthouse came under Taliban attack, with the deaths of up to five UN staff and two Afghans.

That attack led the UN to withdraw hundreds of international employees, leaving a skeleton staff at its enormous compound in central Kabul.

This latest attack comes two days after President Hamid Karzai was sworn in for a second five-year term, after a controversial election on August 20 that was marred by astounding levels of fraud.

He pledged to call a "loya jirga", an inclusive meeting of political, community and religious leaders from across the country, to bring peace to the war-torn country.

Karzai also said that the Afghan security forces would be able to take responsibility for the country's security in five years.

Eighty Taliban militants laid down their weapons yesterday and joined Afghanistan's police force, accepting a government amnesty aimed at ending the insurgency, police said.

In a ceremony at police headquarters in the eastern city of Herat, the 80 men handed over their weapons and pledged to end their fight against the government, said Herat police chief Asmatullah Alizai.

"Negotiations have been going on with their commander Solaiman as we have been trying to absorb him into the government," he said, referring to Mula Solaiman, a former border guard commander who changed sides a number of times.

So far, 8,340 Taliban have accepted the amnesty since Karzai established the Independent Reconciliation Council in 2005, a council official said.

Currently only Kabul is controlled and secured by Afghans, while more than 100,000 troops from the US and Nato countries are fighting the Taliban in an intensifying insurgency.

The independent icasualties.org website puts the death toll for foreign soldiers so far this year at 477, compared to 295 for all of 2008.

Police earlier reported that Afghan and foreign troops killed 23 Taliban militants in separate operations last Friday in clashes in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

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