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Kabul Says Almost All Taliban Prisoners Released, Ready For Talks


Afghanistan Releases More Taliban Prisoners
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KABUL -- Afghan authorities say they expect peace negotiations to start soon after they released the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners they had been detaining, except "a few" because of opposition from other countries.

Kabul this week pressed ahead with the release of a group of 400 "hard-core" Taliban inmates as part of a prisoner swap that has been key to the launch of stalled peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the militant group in the Qatari capital, Doha.

"The Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has received our commandos held hostage by Taliban, after which the Gov't released the remaining 400 convicts, except the few for which our partners have reservations," National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal tweeted on September 3.

"Diplomatic efforts are ongoing. We expect direct talks to start promptly," Faisal added.

Australia and France are reportedly opposed to the release of at least seven Taliban prisoners jailed for killing foreign soldiers in Afghanistan.

An Afghan government source told RFE/RL that the seven would be transferred to Qatar, where they will remain under U.S. surveillance until the issue is resolved.

Taliban figures were quoted as confirming the prisoners had been freed and that those who raised concerns were still in government custody.

It was earlier reported that the Taliban were holding more than 20 Afghan commandos in captivity.

Kabul's announcement comes as a technical team from the government is in Doha, where the militant group has a political office, to prepare the ground for long-delayed talks to end nearly two decades of war in Afghanistan.

Kabul's main team of negotiators will also leave for Qatar "very soon," officials have said.

It was not immediately clear when the talks would start.

"The Afghan government has removed all the obstacles for the direct talks to start," said Najia Anwari, a spokeswoman for the State Ministry for Peace Affairs.

"The negotiation team of the Islamic republic is now in full preparation to attend the talks," she added.

The Taliban has said it was willing to begin peace talks after the prisoner exchange is completed, and blamed Kabul for delaying the negotiations.

The process is part of an agreement reached between the militants and the United States in February in an effort to end the Afghan conflict.

With reporting by AFP
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