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Iran Press TV

Afghan government says almost all Taliban prisoners freed, ready for talks

Iran Press TV

Thursday, 03 September 2020 3:01 PM

The Afghan government has released the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners, the final hurdle in long-delayed peace talks between the two warring sides.

Afghan authorities said on Thursday that they expect direct talks to start soon after they released the inmates they had been detaining.

"The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has received our commandos held hostage by Taliban, after which the Gov't released the remaining 400 convicts, except the few for which our partners have reservations," National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal said on Twitter.

"Diplomatic efforts are ongoing. We expect direct talks to start promptly."

A drawn-out contentious release of hundreds of hardened militants has delayed the start of planned negotiations between the two warring sides, scheduled to take place in the Qatari capital, Doha.

A Taliban source confirmed the prisoners had been freed and that those opposed by France and Australia were still in the Afghan government custody.

"Australia and France have some considerations about them," the sources said. "The Kabul administration will send them to Qatar where they will be in custody during the intra-Afghan talks."

Australia and France are reportedly opposed to the release of some Taliban prisoners jailed for killing foreign soldiers in Afghanistan. At least seven would be transferred to Qatar, where they will remain under surveillance until the issue is resolved.

Najia Anwari, spokeswoman for the State Ministry for Peace Affairs, has called for the start of direct talks with the Taliban. The date for talks to start is yet to be fixed.

"The Afghan government has removed all the obstacles for the direct talks to start," said Anwari. "The negotiation team of the Islamic republic is now in full preparation to attend the talks."

Officials said the government-backed negotiating team was heading to Doha later on Wednesday.

The Afghan government earlier this week resumed the release of Taliban captives after days of vacillating because they had been involved in serious crimes.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Wednesday that Kabul had "fulfilled all its commitments."

"The release of Taliban prisoners is a clear demonstration of the government's commitment to peace," Ghani said.

Afghanistan's Loya Jirga, or grand assembly of elders, had earlier approved the release of 400 imprisoned Taliban militants who had been involved in serious crimes in Afghanistan and whom the Afghan government was hesitant to release.

The prisoner swap, part of a deal between the Taliban and the United States, was considered a prelude to peace talks between the militants and Kabul.

Under the deal with the US, the militant group agreed to stop its attacks on international forces in return for the US military's phased withdrawal from Afghanistan and the prisoner swap with the government.

The Afghan government is a party neither to the negotiations nor to the deal, but it has been acting in accordance with its terms, including by agreeing to free Taliban prisoners.

Official data shows bombings and other assaults by the Taliban have surged 70 percent since the militant group signed the deal with the United States in February.

The deal envisages a complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan, and the Taliban have pledged not to attack American and other foreign forces.

Washington invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban-run government in 2001 on the pretext of fighting terrorism following the September 11 attacks in New York.

Afghanistan has been gripped by insecurity since the US and its allies invaded the country as part of Washington's so-called war on terror in 2001. Many parts of the country remain plagued by militancy despite the presence of foreign troops.

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