Afghan Prez orders release of 500 Taliban prisoners

Clay Curtis
August 2, 2020

At least 17 people have been killed in Afghanistan in a powerful vehicle bomb blast in Logar province.

In restive Zabul province, several residents recited poems calling for the ceasefire - only the third official halt in fighting in almost two decades of conflict - to be made permanent.

Ghani's annoucement came as the Taliban also completed the release of 1,000 prisoners as per the peace agreement it signed with the USA in Doha in February.

In an Eid speech, Ghani said another 500 prisoners would be released during the festival in a bid to "accelerate the peace talks".

"While it is a significant step, the Afghan people ask for a permanent cease-fire and imminent start of direct negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban", said a statement issued by the president's office.

Ghani said the release of the militants would be completed during the holiday, and they would fulfill their side of the deal to free 5,000 Taliban fighters as outlined in a peace deal between the Taliban and the United States.

US Special Envoy Zalmay Khalilzad pressed Taliban leaders and President Ashraf Ghani to break the deadlock during a visit to Kabul this week. "These 500 Taliban will be not from the list that they have given us before".

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Home Minister Zia Langove has blamed "miscreants" for creating what he said was a law-and-order situation in Chaman . However, Frontier Corps (FC) personnel refused to open the gate until shifting of the protesters from the site.

However, the 500 inmates set for release are not on the list of insurgents requested by the Taliban under the agreement with the U.S. - a factor that could push peace negotiations further back.

The Taliban said they had "nothing to do" with the blast.

The Afghan government has released more than 4,400 Taliban prisoners, while a spokesman for the insurgents said on Thursday that a total of 1,005 government inmates had now been set free.

The UNAMA has blamed the Taliban for nearly half of civilian casualties during the first half of 2020, with less than one-quarter blamed on Afghan forces.

Ghani said more than 3,500 Afghan troops and almost 800 civilians had been killed in attacks by the Taliban since their deal with Washington.

Washington also wants to adhere to a troop withdrawal deadline reached in February with the Taliban.

"We want extension of ceasefire so that bloodshed ends".

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