TEHRAN (Iran News) – Afghanistan authorities said on Tuesday 900 more Taliban prisoners will be released, as calls grew for the militants to extend a cease-fire on its third and final day.
The pause in fighting – which came into effect on Sunday to mark the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr – was, for the most part, holding across the country, officials said. The government announced plans Sunday to release up to 2,000 prisoners in response to the Taliban’s three-day cease-fire offer, AFP reported.
On Monday they freed 100, and will release another 900, the government said – the biggest group of Taliban prisoners to be freed so far.
The exact number could vary subject to legal procedures, National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal said.
He said the authorities hoped the Taliban would extend the cease-fire so that delayed peace talks could commence.
“If the Taliban are ready to extend the cease-fire, we are ready to continue the cease-fire too,” Faisal told a news conference.
“We hope they release our prisoners so that intra-Afghan peace talks begin as soon as possible… The future depends on the Taliban’s next move,” he said.
A senior member of the Taliban said the group planned to release about 200 Afghan security force members held captive, without specifying when.
The cease-fire, only the second of its kind in the 19-year-old conflict, has raised hopes of an extended truce that could pave the way for long-awaited peace talks between the Taliban and Afghan government.
“Extend the cease-fire. Save lives,” Shaharzad Akbar, the head of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said on Twitter.
“End the violence so that we can all focus on making services available to the most vulnerable across the country, on expanding access to human rights, so that we have space to breathe.”
Another senior Taliban source said that the group could extend the cease-fire by seven days if the government speeds up the release of prisoners.
But Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said he had no information about an extension.
The Taliban has insisted on the release of their militants as agreed to with the United States in February.
The US-Taliban deal stipulates the Afghan government would release up to 5,000 Taliban prisoners and the militants would free about 1,000 national security personnel.
It also paves the way for all foreign forces to leave the country by next year.
Prior to this week’s releases, Kabul had already freed about 1,000 Taliban inmates, while the militants had let go about 300 Afghan security forces captives.
President Ashraf Ghani has said his government is ready to begin peace negotiations – which had been scheduled to start by March 10 – seen as key to ending the war in the country.
Before the cease-fire started the Taliban had claimed deadly attacks against Afghan forces across the country.
The group denied a gruesome attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul earlier this month when gunmen shot dead mothers, nurses, and newborns.
Ghani has blamed the Taliban and the Daesh terror group for the hospital attack which triggered international outrage.
- source : Iran Daily, Irannews