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Afghan officials hold first prisoner-swap talks with Taliban, US Envoy says

U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad speaks at the inauguration of the Ghazi School in Kabul. (US Embassy Kabul Afghanistan/U.S. Department of State)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Afghan government has held its first talks with the Taliban about a prisoner swap, the U.S. envoy to the war-torn country has said.

“Prisoner releases by both sides is an important step in the peace process,” Zalmay Khalilzad said in a March 22 statement on Twitter.

The talks — held via Skype amid the coronavirus pandemic — lasted more than two hours and were facilitated by the United States and Qatar, Khalilzad said.

The spread of the novel coronavirus has made the release of prisoners “that much more urgent,” he said.

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Afghanistan announced the same day the first death in the country due to COVID-19, the new strain of the coronavirus. Afghanistan had 34 confirmed cases of the virus as of March 22.

The United States last month signed a historic agreement with the Taliban that could lead to the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Afghanistan and an end to the country’s 18-year conflict.

According to a joint declaration published by the U.S. and Afghan governments on February 29, the United States and NATO would withdraw all troops in Afghanistan within 14 months if the Taliban upheld the commitments made in the agreement.

“All sides conveyed their strong commitment to a reduction of violence, intra-Afghan negotiations, and a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire,” Khalilzad said.

The envoy said a follow-up meeting between the Afghan government and Taliban will be held in the next two days.