Afghan govt urges Taliban to extend ceasefire

Kabul (AFP) –


The Afghan government on Sunday urged the Taliban to extend a rare ceasefire hours before it was due to end, as a contentious prisoner swap between the two warring sides edged closer to completion.

Officials said there were no reports of fighting between the enemies across much of Afghanistan during the three day truce that marked the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.

However, the calm was broken Sunday evening when gunmen stormed a prison in Jalalabad in the east of the country, leaving at least three people dead. The Taliban denied involvement in the assault.

President Ashraf Ghani and the Taliban have both previously indicated that long-delayed peace talks could begin straight after Eid.

"We hope the Taliban will not resume violence," said Sediq Sediqqi, spokesman to Ghani.

"The Afghan government's actions and steps taken in the peace process must be reciprocated by the Taliban."

Under a deal signed by the Taliban and the US in February, the "intra-Afghan" peace talks were slated to start in March, but were delayed amid political infighting in Kabul and as an agreed prisoner swap dragged on.

The deal stipulated that Kabul would free around 5,000 Taliban prisoners in return for 1,000 Afghan security personnel held captive by the Taliban.

The National Security Council said Sunday that a further 300 Taliban prisoners had been released since Friday, taking the total number freed so far to just over 4,900.

The Taliban say they have already fulfilled their commitment.

Authorities however have refused to free hundreds of inmates accused of serious crimes that the group had requested for release, adding that a gathering of Afghan elders would decide their fate.

- Eid joy and relief -

The rare respite from violence gave some Afghans the opportunity to safely visit relatives for Eid celebrations after long periods apart.

"I managed to visit my village for the first time in two years," said Khalil Ahmad from volatile Uruzgan province, a hotbed for insurgents.

"There were many Taliban check posts on the way, but they did not bother anyone."

Shahpoor Shadab, a resident from the eastern city of Jalalabad, told AFP that "Eid feels different, parks are full with people".

"You almost forget that there has been a war in this country for 40 years."

Kabul resident Fawad Babak, a shopkeeper, was sad that it was the last day of the ceasefire.

"I'm a little disheartened... the killing and bloodshed may resume again tomorrow," he said.

In restive Zabul province, several residents recited poems calling for the ceasefire -- only the third official halt in fighting in nearly two decades of conflict -- to be made permanent.

"Peace is everybody's need and aspiration," said Sardar Wali, who took part in the poetry session.

"This is a great opportunity to extend the ceasefire today and start intra-Afghan talks tomorrow."

Deadly violence has rocked Afghanistan since the US-Taliban deal was agreed, with more than 3,500 Afghan troops killed in attacks by the insurgents, according to Ghani.