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Australia, France object to Afghan release of some Taliban detainees

Taliban Prisoners (MOECKLI, Olivier/WikiCommons)

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

Afghan officials say the planned peace talks with the Taliban have hit a new impasse after some foreign governments called on Kabul not to free certain fighters in a prisoner-release deal.

The negotiations were expected to begin within days after a Loya Jirga — a traditional consultative assembly — met in Kabul earlier this month and approved the release of 400 Taliban prisoners, a major precondition to talks.

The officials didn’t name the foreign governments who opposed to the release of the militants.

But Australia and France have urged the Afghan government not to free several Taliban fighters accused of killing Australian and French nationals.

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Fereydoon Khuzoon, a spokesman for the High Council for National Reconciliation, told reporters that the prisoner release process had been slowed down by the foreign partners’ objections.

Khuzoon said Afghan authorities were now trying to resolve the problem in such a way that both the peace opportunity and relationships with the foreign partners remained unharmed.

Azizullah Fazli, a government adviser on peace affairs, told RFE/RL that efforts were under way by the government in Kabul to remove obstacles to the start of inter-Afghan negotiations.

“It is not a big problem, it will be resolved,” Fazli said on August 17.

France’s Foreign Ministry said on August 15 that Paris was “firmly opposed to the liberation of individuals sentenced for crimes against French nationals, especially soldiers and humanitarian workers.”

Bettina Goislard, a French employee of the UN refugee agency, was killed by two Taliban militants in 2003.

In 2012, a former Afghan soldier killed five French troops and injured 13 others in Kapisa Province.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said last week he had lobbied against the release of a former Afghan National Army soldier — identified as Hekmatullah — who went rogue and killed three Australian soldiers.

Kabul has already released 4,600 Taliban inmates out of the 5,000 pledged in a landmark agreement signed by the United States and the Taliban in February.

But Afghan officials have described the remaining prisoners as dangerous. About 200 of them are accused by the Afghan government of masterminding attacks on embassies, public squares, and government offices, killing thousands of civilians in recent years.

The Taliban says it has freed all 1,000 government prisoners it had pledged in the agreement with the United States.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani himself has warned that the 400 militants were a “danger to the world.”

But the Taliban said in a statement that the militants didn’t pose any threat to anyone and that they were imprisoned for fighting for their country.

The militant group has said it is willing to begin peace talks “within a week” after all 400 prisoners are released. It the Afghan government for delaying the negotiations.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said repeatedly that he wants to end America’s longest war, which began after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.