Afghanistan releases 2,000 Taliban

Source:AFP Published: 2020/5/25 17:13:40

Holiday cease-fire accords see opposition prisoners set free in swap deal

Taliban fighters attend a surrender ceremony in Jalalabad city, capital of Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, Feb. 8, 2020. (Xinhua/Saifurahman Safi)

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani began a process Sunday to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture after the insurgents proposed a surprise cease-fire during the Eid holiday.

The cease-fire appeared to hold as there were no reports of fighting between the insurgents and Afghan forces by the end of the first day on Sunday.

Ghani also said the government was ready to hold peace talks with the Taliban after accepting their offer of a three-day truce over the Eid al-Fitr holiday that marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. 

The decision to release the prisoners was a "goodwill gesture" and was taken "to ensure success of the peace process," Ghani's spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Twitter.

A US-Taliban deal signed in February stipulated that the Afghan government would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the insurgents would free about 1,000 Afghan security force personnel.

The prisoner swap is seen as a confidence-building move ahead of long-awaited peace talks between the government and Taliban.

Before Sunday's announcement, Kabul had already released about 1,000 Taliban inmates while the insurgents had freed roughly 300 members of the Afghan security forces.

The insurgents said they were committed to freeing prisoners, but reminded Kabul that the deal was to "release 5,000" of their members as agreed with the US in Doha.

"This process should be completed in order to remove hurdles in the way of commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations," a Taliban spokesman, Suhail Shaheen, said on Twitter.

Ghani said a government delegation was "ready to immediately start the peace talks" with the insurgents.

Government negotiators would be headed by Ghani's former bitter rival Abdullah Abdullah after the two signed a power-sharing deal last week that ended a months-long political crisis.

"We have not received a single report of clash or fighting among our Mujahideen and the enemy forces," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told AFP late Sunday.

Police spokesmen from provinces including Kunduz, Baghlan and Takhar where regular clashes have occurred also told AFP that they had received no reports of fighting during the day.

The militants' offer of a truce came just days after leader Haibatullah Akhundzada urged Washington "not to waste" the opportunity offered by the deal with the US that set the stage for the withdrawal of foreign troops from the country after more than 18 years. 

US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who brokered the deal, said on Twitter Saturday that the cease-fire was "a momentous opportunity that should not be missed" while pledging that the US would "do its part to help."

US President Donald Trump's administration has made it a priority to end America's longest war, and in a bid to pull out foreign forces, US officials have been pushing the Taliban and government leaders to hold peace talks.

Analysts, however, say the Taliban have been emboldened by the deal with the US. 

Afghan government officials have reported more than 3,800 attacks since it was signed, killing 420 civilians and wounding 906.



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