Afghan talks to kick off as Kabul set to free Taliban prisoners

Peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban are expected to start in Qatar within a week once the final batch of Taliban prisoners was released, the US special envoy and Afghan government sources said on Monday.

The government accepted the advice of a Loya Jirga, a grand assembly of elders sometimes held to decide on controversial issues, on Sunday to release 400 Taliban prisoners, paving the way for the so-called intra-Afghan talks aimed at ending a war that has ground on since Taliban government was removed from power in US-led invasion in 2001.

The prisoner release was part of a US-Taliban agreement signed in February. The Afghan government, which was not party to the deal, was expected to release a total of 5,000 prisoners to kickstart the talks.

“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 news agency, adding that the first round of talks will be held in Doha, the capital of Qatar.

The intra-Afghan talks, which were initially slated to be held in March, were delayed as the Afghan government was reluctant to release all the Taliban prisoners.

The resolution to release the last batch of prisoners, which was proving to be of particular concern to Kabul, was passed at the end of a three-day Loya Jirga.

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