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Prisoners to be Freed; Perhaps Truce Ex05/26 06:11


   KABUL, Afghanistan (AP)  The Afghan government said it would free 900 
prisoners on Tuesday, its single largest prisoner release since the U.S. and 
the Taliban signed a peace deal earlier this year that spells out an exchange 
of detainees between the warring sides.

   The announcement came as a three-day cease-fire with the insurgents draws to 
an end. The Taliban had called for the truce during the Muslim holiday of Eid 
al-Fitr that marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

   There are expectations that the prisoner release could lead to new 
reductions in violence, and Taliban officials say they are considering an 
extension of the cease-fire.

   A senior Taliban figure confirmed this to The Associated Press.

   "If these developments, like the announcement of prisoner release continues, 
it is possible to move forward with decisions like extending the brief 
cease-fire and to move in a positive direction with some minor issues," the 
Taliban official said.

   The prisoner release is part of the U.S. deal with the Taliban, signed on 
Feb. 29 to allow for the eventual withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from 
Afghanistan, bringing to an end the country's protracted war and America's 
longest military involvement.

   When the deal was signed, it was touted as Afghanistan's best chance for 
peace after decades of war but political feuding in Kabul and delays in 
prisoner exchanges have slowed the deal's progress toward intra-Afghan 
negotiations, considered the second and most critical phase of the accord.

   Under the deal, Kabul is to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the 
insurgents are to free 1,000 captives they hold, mostly government officials 
and Afghan forces, before intra-Afghan negotiations can begin.

   Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had welcomed the Taliban cease-fire 
announcement during the Muslim holiday.

   Javid Faisal, a national security spokesman in Kabul, urged the Taliban to 
extend the cease-fire and said the government would release 900 prisoners on 

   That would bring to 2,000 the number of Taliban prisoners released so far 
under the U.S.-Taliban deal. The Taliban say they have released 240 of captives 
they held.

   However, the Taliban have yet to confirm whether those released so far by 
the government were among the 5,000 names the insurgents had given U.S. 
negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, the architect of the Feb. 29 deal.

   A second Taliban official told the AP that those released so far were n fact 
on the Taliban list of demands, including the uncle of Taliban chief Hibatullah 
Akhundzada. Key in deciding which names would appear on the list was Mullah 
Nooruddin Turabi, a senior figure who had recently recovered from COVID-19, the 
illness caused by the coronavirus.

   Turabi was the much feared vice and virtue minister during the Taliban rule, 
known for beating men who were found listening to music or not attending the 
mosque. He once slapped a Taliban commander who spoke with a woman journalist.

   Both Taliban officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because 
they were not authorized to talk to reporters.

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