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Afghan president vows to speed up release of Taliban prisoners amid Eid al-Fitr ceasefire

Afghanistan said it would release 5,000 Taliban prisoners as part of the US deal [Getty]

Date of publication: 24 May, 2020

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The release of Taliban prisoners will be accelerated, Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani said on Sunday.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani vowed Sunday to speed up the release of Taliban prisoners after welcoming a surprise offer by the insurgents of a three-day ceasefire during the Eid holiday.

"As a responsible government we take one more step forward - I announce that I will expedite the Taliban prisoner releases," Ghani said in an address to the nation marking Eid al-Fitr.

He also urged the militants to press on with the release of the Afghan security personnel they hold.

A US-Taliban deal signed in February stipulated that the Afghan government would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the insurgents would free about 1,000 Afghan security force personnel.

The prisoner swap is seen as a confidence-building move ahead of long-awaited peace talks between the government and Taliban.

Kabul has so far released about 1,000 Taliban inmates while the insurgents have freed about 300 Afghan security force personnel.

The Eid al-Fitr holiday marks the end of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan.

The Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire during the holiday, in a surprise move following months of bloody fighting with Afghan forces after the group signed a landmark agreement with the United States. 

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement posted on social media that the group's "leadership instructs all the mujahideen of the Islamic Emirate to take special measures for security of the countrymen, and conduct no offensive operation against the enemy anywhere."

The statement, which announced a halt to hostilities "during the three days of Eid," instructed Taliban fighters to refrain from entering government areas and also said that Kabul forces were not allowed to enter territories under their control. 

Since the US invasion in 2001 there has only been one other pause in the fighting - a surprise three-day ceasefire between the Taliban and Kabul marking the religious festival of Eid in 2018.

That ceasefire call was given by Ghani, which the insurgents had accepted.

Read also: Afghan woman voluntarily nurses babies of mothers slain in Kabul maternity ward carnage

US Special Representative to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, who brokered the deal, said on Twitter Saturday that the United States welcomed "the Taliban's decision to observe a ceasefire during Eid, as well as the Afghan government announcement reciprocating and announcing its own ceasefire."

He urged the Taliban to continue to abide by the agreement, calling the halt in violence "a momentous opportunity that should not be missed" while pledging that the United States would "do its part to help."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also welcomed the ceasefire, urging all parties to "seize this opportunity for peace, for the benefit of all Afghans."

Agencies contributed to this report.

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