Prisoner swap: Taliban leader meets US, Qatar officials

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KABUL, Afghanistan 

A senior Taliban leader met on Tuesday the US peace envoy for Afghanistan and Qatar’s top diplomat ahead of the long-delayed intra-Afghan negotiations, the group announced.

Taliban spokesman Mohammad Naeem said the group’s deputy chief Mullah Baradar Akhund met US special representative for Afghan reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad and Qatar’s foreign minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani in Doha, where the insurgents maintain a political office.

“During the meeting, issues related to the speedy completion of the prisoners release process, and the start of intra-Afghan talks were discussed in detail,” he said in a tweet.

Under the US-Taliban deal signed in February, some 5,000 insurgents and 1,000 security forces kept captives by the parties to the conflict have to be freed before the commencement of direct intra-Afghan talks.

In return, the insurgents pledged to prevent terrorist groups from using Afghan soil for attacks, and promised to seek reconciliation with other Afghan groups through a dialogue process.

But disagreements over the release of the final batch of 400 “hardcore” Taliban prisoners delayed the peace negotiations, originally expected in March.

Kabul broke the impasse last week by resuming the troubled exchange, and releasing all but a few inmates.

Taliban say that as soon as the remaining ones are released, the talks will begin.

Meanwhile, Kabul’s top peace broker, Abdullah Abdullah, who is the chairman of High Council of National Reconciliation, said “enmity towards the Taliban must end now.”

Addressing a ceremony in the capital, he expressed optimism that the talks, which will lay out a framework for post-war Afghanistan, would begin soon.

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