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Taliban to free 20 Afghan prisoners


April 12 (UPI) — The Taliban has announced it will be releasing its first group of 20 prisoners as part of an agreement aimed at starting peace talks between the militant ground and the Afghan government.

The agreement, signed in late February between the United States and the Taliban, calls for a prisoner swap of some 5,000 Taliban prisoners held by the Afghan government and some 1,000 Afghan security forces and government officials held by the militant group “to create the conditions for reaching a political settlement and achieving a permanent, sustainable ceasefire.”

“Today, 20 prisoners of the Kabul administration will be released,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen announced via Twitter on Sunday, adding they will be handed over to the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kandahar.

The prisoner release by the Taliban follows the Afghan government releasing some 300 of its prisoners since Wednesday when the National Security Council of Afghanistan announced 100 prisoners were released.

The prisoner swap was welcomed by Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, late Sunday, who said it was “an important step in the peace process and the reduction of violence.”

“Both sides should accelerate efforts to meet targets specified in the U.S.-Taliban agreement as soon as possible,” he said via Twitter, citing the threat to those in prisons to COVID-19, the coronavirus that has infected nearly 2 million people and caused more than 114,000 deaths worldwide.

Last Tuesday, the Taliban suspended intra-Afghan peace talks over disagreements on the release of prisoners. Then on Wednesday, the U.S. backed Afghanistan government announced the release of 100 Taliban prisoners.

On Friday, Gen. Austin “Scott” Miller, a top U.S commander, held a meeting with Taliban leaders amid accusations that both sides had violated their end of the February agreement.

The Taliban had accused the United States of continuing raids and drone attacks — accusations the United States had said were groundless.

As part of the agreement, the United States said it would withdraw its troops from the country, a process that began in early March and contingent upon the prisoners swap condiction and the start of peace talks.


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