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Taliban urges Afghan government to speed up prisoner release

Bagram prison cell (U.S. State Department/WikiCommons)

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

The Taliban has called on the Afghan government to speed up the release of prisoners in order to pave the way for negotiations with the militant movement.

A landmark deal 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.

The agreement also provides for the militants to release 1,000 Afghan security force members.

“In the last 3 days, our 300 prisoners were released from the Kbl Adm. (Kabul administration) prisons which we welcome,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen tweeted late on May 4.

“However, it is not enough — the process should be expedited so the prisoners be saved from the Coronavirus and the way be paved for an earliest inception of intra-Afghan negotiations,” Shaheen wrote.

The Afghan government so far has released about 750 Taliban inmates from jails, according to the Office of National Security Council (ONSC).

The Taliban has released 112 members of Afghan security forces, the ONSC says.

Kabul has been wary of releasing large groups of prisoners, especially with Afghan forces suffering heavy casualties in recent weeks from Taliban attacks across the country.

The violence poses an immediate threat to a fragile peace deal between the United States and the Taliban, as the Afghan military is forced to fight an emboldened Taliban with less U.S. support.

Adding to concerns over the situation was a recent report from the U.S. Special Inspector-General for Afghanistan Reconstruction that warned the spread of COVID-19 could derail the stalled peace efforts.

Afghanistan has registered 2,704 coronavirus infections and 85 fatalities.

But there is widespread concern that the number of cases in the conflict- and poverty-ridden nation of nearly 37 million could be much higher as only about 12,000 tests have been performed to date.