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France opposes release of 3 Taliban prisoners

August 16, 2020

The French government has urged Afghan authorities to not release three Taliban militants that are convicted for killing French nationals. The statement could further delay crucial intra-Afghan negotiations.

Afghanistan Kabul Taliban Freilassung
Image: Reuters/National Security Council

The Afghan government said Friday they had begun the release of 400 Taliban prisoners, in an important step towards peace talks that have been delayed since February following the US-Taliban peace deal in Doha, Qatar . So far, around 80 jihadis have been released.

"It (France) firmly opposes the liberation of individuals convicted of crimes against French nationals, in particular soldiers and humanitarian workers. As a result, we have immediately asked Afghan authorities not to proceed with the release of these terrorists," France's foreign ministry said on Saturday.

Read more: Taliban maintains close ties with al-Qaida, despite peace deal – UN

The Taliban fighters whose release France opposes had killed a French woman Bettina Goislard, an employee of the UN refugee agency, and five French troops.

Goislard's family also denounced the move to release the militants.

France's statement could further delay the much-awaited negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Key Taliban demand

Disagreement over the release of Taliban prisoners has already delayed the talks.

The prisoner release has been one of the Taliban's top demands for moving forward with peace negotiations with the Afghan government. The US had promised to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for a pledge from the Taliban to hold peace talks.

Read more: Afghan peace process: Is Washington running out of patience?

The Doha deal had stipulated that Kabul release 5,000 Taliban militants in return for 1,000 Afghan government prisoners. While Kabul released most of the Taliban prisoners, it was reluctant to release the final 400, it was reluctant to release the final 400.

This had prompted the Taliban to allege that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani was not interested in negotiations.

The Taliban release was finally approved over the weekend following a gathering of thousands of tribal elders and prominent Afghans, known as the "Loya Jirga."

US-Taliban talks: Afghan women worried about their future

Dangerous prisoners

Although the move has been considered necessary for the larger peace process between the Taliban and the Afghan government, it has drawn widespread concern as reports have emerged that dozens of the released Taliban militants were pinpointed as being involved in deadly attacks.

Among the 400 detainees, 156 had been sentenced to death, according to a list provided to Germany's DPA news agency by Afghanistan's National Security Council. Other militants were convicted for homicide, kidnapping, drug smuggling and other serious crimes.

Ghani warned on Thursday that the released militants were "likely to pose a danger both to us and to the world."

"Until this issue, there was a consensus on the desirability of peace but not on the cost of it," Ghani said in a video conference organized by a US think tank.

The Loya Jirga has asked Afghan authorities to monitor the freed militants and ensure they do not carry out attacks.

Ahead of the jirga, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had urged the gathering to release the prisoners, although he acknowledged the move was "unpopular."

Read more: Why is the US in a rush to pull out troops from Afghanistan?

am/shs (Reuters, AFP)