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Afghanistan government frees 900 Taliban prisoners

May 26, 2020

The inmates have been released as part of a trust-building prisoner swap. The Afghan government also wants an extension on the Eid al-Fitr ceasefire.

The Afghan government said it would free 900 prisoners on Tuesday, its single largest prisoner release since the U.S. and the Taliban signed a peace deal
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/R. Gul

A total of 900 Taliban prisoners were released on Tuesday, as calls grew for the militants to extend a ceasefire on its third and final day.

The Afghan government had announced the releases during a news conference, where it called for the extension of the temporary truce ahead of its expiration on Tuesday night.

The prisoners were freed as part of an ongoing prisoner swap. Eventually a total of 5,000 Taliban militants should be exchanged for 1,000 government officials and security personal.

Read more: Afghanistan's endless political disarray imperils US-Taliban deal

The swap is meant to be a key trust-building step ahead of peace talks, but negotiations between the two sides have been on-and-off since they began in early March. They have also been marred by numerous violent attacks and clashes.

It was the largest number of prisoners freed at any one time during the swap.

Number of Taliban released to reach 2,000

The additional 900 Taliban will take the number of inmates released by the Afghan government up to 2,000, said Javid Faisal, the spokesman for the Afghan National Security Adviser during the press conference.

But the exact number of prisoners set to be released could also change subject to legal procedures, said Faisal.

Read more: Afghanistan: Taliban breaks off 'fruitless' prisoner exchange talks

"If these developments, like the announcement of prisoner releases, continues then it is possible to move forward with decisions like extending the brief ceasefire and to move in a positive direction with some minor issues," reported news agency AP citing a Taliban official.

"We hope they release our prisoners so that intra-Afghan peace talks begin as soon as possible... The future depends on the Taliban's next move," said Faisal.

Eid al-Fitr ceasefire

The Afghan government also hopes to extend the mutual truce that began on Sunday, allowing both sides to celebrate Eid al-Fitr – one of the holiest festivals in the Muslim calendar.

"It is important to extend the ceasefire and order to avoid bloodshed the Afghan government is ready to extend it," said Faisal on Tuesday.

Read more: Afghanistan: Deadly bombing mars Taliban prisoner-swap talks

"Extend the ceasefire. Save lives," tweeted Shaharzad Akbar, head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

The exchange is a key step in the peace talks brokered by the US after it agreed a troop withdrawal pact with the militant group, enabling the US to exit its 18-year-long presence in the country.

kmm/rc (dpa, AFP, Reuters, AP)

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