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Taliban pledge peace talks after prisoner release completed

KABUL (APP): The Taliban said Monday they were ready to hold peace talks with the Afghan government after a contentious prisoner exchange, which authorities said would begin in the next two days.

“Our stance is clear, if the prisoner release is completed, then we are ready for the intra-Afghan talks within a week,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told AFP, adding that the first round of talks will be held in Doha, Qatar.

Thousands of prominent Afghans on Sunday agreed to the release of hundreds of Taliban prisoners accu-sed of serious offences, overcoming a key hurdle in starting negotiations.

“The Afghan government will start releasing the 400 Taliban prisoners within two days,” National Security Council spokes-man Javid Fasial told AFP.

Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen said the Taliban delegation would be led by Abbas Stanekzai, who was the group’s chief negotiator in talks with Washington ahead of a landmark withdrawal deal signed in February.

The prisoner exchange was a key part of the February deal, which saw Washington agree to withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in return for a pledge from the Taliban to hold peace talks with the Kabul government.

The long-delayed peace talks pushed by Washington are aimed at ending the almost two decades old conflict in the country that has killed tens of thousands of people.

According to government data, out of the 400 prisoners in question, 156 of them have been sentenced to death, 105 of them are accused of murder, 34 of them are accused of kidnapping.

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