Afghan officials to travel for talks with Taliban after agreement on prisoners – sources


Doha (Reuters) – Afghan negotiators and senior officials were set to fly to Doha on Thursday ahead of planned peace talks with the Taliban, after coming to a compromise over the release of prisoners that was holding up the talks, diplomatic and government sources said.

All but seven of the 5,000 prisoners whose release the Taliban demanded have been freed, a source in the government-appointed peace council and a diplomatic source in Kabul said. Both the government and the Taliban declined comment.

It was not immediately clear when the talks would start, but a government source said they could begin as soon as Saturday.

Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, the chief of the government-mandated negotiation team, said in a tweet that his group would “soon” start peace talks.

The United States-brokered negotiations have been stalled for months as the Taliban demanded the release of 5,000 of its prisoners as a pre-condition.

The release of the final batch of 400 prisoners has been debated for weeks since the government blamed them for some of the worst violence in the country. They included a small number of prisoners whose release was objected to by Western powers, including France and Australia, due to their involvement in attacks on foreign forces.

The plan was for the seven remaining prisoners to be transferred to Doha where they would be kept under supervision, five sources told Reuters.

“These seven prisoners were members of the Afghan National Security Forces who were arrested on charges of `green on blue` attacks. They will be shifted to Doha,” said an Afghan official.

The United States has been trying to broker peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban to end 19 years of war since Washington signed a troop withdrawal deal with the insurgent group in February.

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