Afghanistan frees over 300 Taliban prisoners in Eid cease-fire deal

Afghanistan’s government released hundreds of Taliban prisoners over the weekend as a rare cease-fire between the groups appeared to hold for the final scheduled day on Sunday, the last day of the Muslim festival Eid-al Adha.

The government had released 317 Taliban prisoners since the holiday began on Friday, Afghanistan’s National Security Council said on Twitter on Sunday.

The inmates were part of the 500 Taliban prisoners ordered free by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Friday in a gesture of goodwill.

Afghan officials reported no major clashes between the two groups in that time period.

Slow crawl towards peace talks

Both President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban have signaled that protracted peace negotiations could begin once Eid-al Adha is over.

The Taliban and the US in February signed a deal that slated Afghan peace talks to begin in March, but discussions were delayed by disagreements over terms of a prisoner swap.

The deal — which sets the stage for the withdrawal of all international troops from Afghanistan — required Kabul to free some 5,000 Taliban prisoners in exchange for 1,000 Afghan security personnel held by the Taliban.

The individuals freed over the weekend bring the total number of Taliban prisoners released from Afghan custody to just over 4,900.

The Taliban on Thursday said it had freed 1,000 prisoners as agreed in its deal with the US.

400 still held for serious crimes

Afghan authorities continue to hold some 400 Taliban prisoners accused of serious crimes, despite the militant group’s request for their release.

Ghani on Friday had said he had "no authority" under the country's constitution to pardon the inmates' crimes. He would instead call a loya jirga, a traditional grand council of elders, to decide whether they should go free.

Deadly violence has persisted in Afghanistandespite the signing of the US-Taliban deal in February, with Taliban forces killing over 3,500 Afghan troops, the president said.

Foreign troops have been on the ground in the Middle Eastern country since 2001.

kp/mm (AFP, dpa)