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Afghan Government Release Taliban Prisoners

Afghanistan’s government has started releasing the last 400 Taliban prisoners, paving the way for long-delayed peace talks.

Eighty prisoners were set free on Thursday, officials said, some whose crimes include attacks on Afghans and foreigners. The release was a condition to begin negotiations to end 19 years of conflict in the country.

Peace talks are expected to start in Qatar within days of the full release.

The release was “to speed up efforts for direct talks and a lasting, nationwide ceasefire”, Afghanistan’s Office of the National Security Council said in a Tweet.

On the weekend, an Afghan grand assembly of elders approved the release of the 400 Taliban prisoners accused of “major” crimes after authorities initially refused to free the militants.

The prisoners include some 44 insurgents who are of particular concern to the United States and other countries for their roles in high-profile attacks.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani warned on Thursday that their release was a “danger” to the world, reported AFP. “Until this issue, there was a consensus on the desirability of peace but not on the cost of it,” Mr Ghani said.

The Taliban were removed from power in Afghanistan by a US-led invasion in 2001. The group has gradually regained its strength to control more territory than at any point since that time.

Earlier this year, the US and the Taliban agreed on a peace deal to end the 19-year-long conflict in Afghanistan. The deal was meant to pave the way for talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, which had previously only agreed to talk to the US.

Negotiations for the US and Taliban had agreed that 5,000 Taliban prisoners would be released before they entered talks with the Afghan government. Thousands were freed – however, 400 remained in prison. About 150 of them are on death row, according to AFP.

The move comes as the US announced its troop level in the country would drop below 5,000 by November.