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Afghan Government Releases More Taliban Prisoners Before Ramadan

Newly freed Taliban prisoners are seen at Bagram prison, north of Kabul, on April 9.
Newly freed Taliban prisoners are seen at Bagram prison, north of Kabul, on April 9.

Ahead of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Afghan government has released another 55 Taliban prisoners, the National Security Council has said.

Council spokesman Javed Faisal said in a tweet the detainees were released on April 22 from nine provinces -- Paktia, Logar, Badakhshan, Jawzjan, Ghazni, Baghlan, Khost, Paktika, and Maidan Wardak -- as part of ''our efforts to advance peace and fight'' the coronavirus epidemic.

The Western-backed government in Kabul has released more than 480 Taliban inmates since April 8, while the militants have freed 60 Afghan security and defense personnel they were holding.

A pact signed by the United States and the Taliban on February 29 calls for the Afghan government to release 5,000 Taliban fighters as a confidence-building measure ahead of formal peace talks aimed at ending the 18-year conflict in Afghanistan.

The militant group has vowed to release some 1,000 Afghan government troops and civilian workers it is holding.

The prisoner swap was scheduled to be completed by March 10, before the start of intra-Afghan peace talks, but it has been delayed by disputes between the sides.

Meanwhile, deadly fighting has continued across Afghanistan since the U.S.-Taliban deal was inked in Doha, Qatar.

In a message to mark the start of Ramadan, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani urged the Taliban to agree to stop the violence "as the coronavirus spreads across the country.“

''The government and people of Afghanistan demand that the Taliban accept our call for peace and cease-fire out of respect for the holy month of Ramadan," Ghani said.

In a statement, the UN envoy in Afghanistan, Deborah Lyons, encouraged everyone to back the UN's call for ''a global cease-fire to silence the guns and enable all Afghans to come together'' to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Afghan authorities have reported more than 1,270 cases of COVID-19, the disease cause by the virus, including 42 deaths.

The authorities have released thousands of detainees, mostly women, juveniles, and sick people, to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading in prisons.

With reporting by dpa

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