Afghan president pledges to expedite release of Taliban prisoners

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has pledged to speed up the release of Taliban prisoners after welcoming an announcement by the armed group of a three-day ceasefire during the Eid al-Fitr holiday.

"As a responsible government we take one more step forward - I announce that I will expedite the Taliban prisoner releases," Ghani said in his Eid message on Sunday.


Speaking at the presidential palace in the capital, Kabul, Ghani also called on the Taliban to press on with the release of Afghan security personnel they are holding as soon as possible.

The release of up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 detained Afghan security personnel was mentioned as a "confidence-building measure" in an agreement signed between the Taliban and the United States in late February in Qatar's capital, Doha, touted as the deal that will end the US's longest war.

It was also a precondition set by the Taliban for joining intra-Afghan talks, but efforts stalled over a disagreement on the prisoner exchange.

The Taliban wants 5,000 of its prisoners released in one go - a demand Kabul has so far refused to oblige.

A positive development came on Saturday when the Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire for Eid, the holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.

The Taliban statement also instructed its fighters to refrain from entering government areas and said Kabul forces were not allowed to enter territories under their control.

Following the announcement, Ghani welcomed the group's ceasefire offer and ordered his forces to comply.

In a similar holiday truce in 2018, there were unprecedented scenes of fighters from opposite sides embracing and taking selfies.

US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who brokered the February 29 agreement, said on Twitter on Saturday that Washington welcomed "the Taliban's decision to observe a ceasefire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government announcement reciprocating and announcing its own ceasefire."

He urged the Taliban to continue to abide by the agreement, calling the halt in violence "a momentous opportunity that should not be missed" while pledging that the US would "do its part to help."

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed Saturday's announcement and urged all parties "to seize the opportunity and embrace an Afghan-led and Afghan-owned peace process", UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.


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