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Taliban calls back negotiators after suspending prisoner-exchange talks

Taliban Prisoners (MOECKLI, Olivier/WikiCommons)

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

The Taliban called back its team of negotiators from Kabul hours after saying it broke off talks with the Afghan government on a prisoner exchange.

The three-member team met some Afghan officials while in the capital, but no progress was made on the release of inmates, the Taliban said on April 7.

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, announced on Twitter that the team would withdraw “with immediate effect.”

“Prisoners of the Islamic Emirate should have been released long before as per the signed agreement and paved the way for intra-Afghan negotiations,” Shaheen said. “But the relevant sides are deliberately delaying our prisoners’ release and thus violating the peace agreement.”

Shaheen tweeted earlier that the technical team would not participate in “fruitless meetings,” blaming the administration of President Ashraf Ghani for delaying the prisoner release “under one pretext or another.”

The Afghan government said on April 7 that Taliban prisoners should provide assurances they would not return to combat.

The two sides had been holding talks in Kabul since last week to try to finalize the prisoner swap originally set to happen by March 10.

The suspension of the talks could lead to an escalation of violence, which in turn could threaten the plan to withdraw U.S. troops under a pact signed by the United States and the Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha, on February 29.

Ghani adviser Waheed Omar said Kabul considers the release of the prisoners as part of wider negotiations.

The government would not agree to release Taliban prisoners “until the Taliban takes a step forward,” Omar told reporters.

Afghan government officials have said the Taliban was demanding the release of senior commanders involved in some of the most violent attacks in recent years.

The Doha deal 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.

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

The U.S.-led international forces are to withdraw in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, but peace hinges on talks between the Afghan government and the militants.