Sun, 31 May 2020

KABUL -- The Taliban says Afghanistan's government has agreed to begin releasing Taliban prisoners by the end of March.

The development could help break a deadlock that has held up negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government under a U.S.-brokered peace process.

The Taliban announced the development following a video conference on March 25 in which the prisoner release was discussed in detail.

'The meeting decided that the release of the prisoners will practically start by the end of March,' Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said on Twitter.

Shaheen said the Taliban would send a team to the Bagram detention center north of Kabul where Afghan authorities are holding many Taliban prisoners.

It was not immediately clear how many prisoners would be released. The Taliban have demanded 5,000 as a precondition to talks with Kabul.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has said the government would initially release 1,500.

A senior government official confirmed the process would start 'within a week,' according to Reuters.

AFP quoted Afghanistan's National Security Council as saying officials from the government will meet 'in the coming days' with Taliban representatives to discuss an initial release of prisoners.

All sides consider the release of prisoners a prerequisite for the beginning of intra-Afghan talks.

U.S. envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has said a prisoner release has become more urgent because of the spread of coronavirus.

An agreement signed in Doha on February 29 by the United States and the Taliban could lead to the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan as part of a peace process aimed at bringing an end to the conflict in Afghanistan.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AIP News

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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