In attempt to save peace talks, Afghan govt. frees 100 Taliban prisoners

The Afghan government has released 100 low-risk Taliban prisoners, officials say, a day after the militant group said they would quit talks with Kabul.
Afghanistan's Office of the National Security Council (NSC) said in a statement that the prisoners released on Wednesday were "thoroughly vetted" and had all taken an oath never to return to fighting.
The government "has received the same assurance from the (Taliban's) leadership in Doha," the statement added.
Officials said the release prisoners were selected based on their health, age and length of remaining sentence "as part of our efforts for peace and containment of COVID-19."
The government and the militant group have been discussing prisoner exchange, which would pave the way for intra-Afghan peace talks, in Kabul since last week.
The swap is part of an agreement reached between the United States and Taliban in February that envisages a complete withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan. The Afghan government was not a party to the negotiations or the deal, but it has agreed to free the prisoners.
But Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s office in Qatar, said on Tuesday that the group would not participate in the “fruitless meetings,” claiming that Kabul is delaying the exchange process.
According to Afghan government officials, the Taliban are demanding the release of 15 top commanders involved in some of the most violent attacks in recent years.
Earlier on Wednesday, Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the NSC, told AFP that the 15 commanders were not among those being released, and that additional prisoners would be freed "depending on what the Taliban do".
"We are doing our part in the agreement. The peace process should move forward," he added.
Under the agreement involving the US, the Afghan government is required to ultimately release 5,000 Taliban prisoners, and the militant group to free 1,000 government captives.
Afghan officials have said they would release at least 10,000 non-Taliban prisoners in an attempt to curb the spread of the deadly coronavirus in prisons.

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