Afghan president says all commitments met for Taliban peace talks

Kabul (AFP) –


Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Wednesday that the government had met all of its commitments for peace talks with the Taliban, as a team left for Qatar to prepare for negotiations.

Ghani's remarks came after Kabul broke an impasse with the insurgent group on Monday by resuming a protracted prisoner exchange, a key hurdle to long-delayed negotiations between the two sides opening in Doha.

"The government has fulfilled all its commitments in the peace process that the international community had hoped for," Ghani told a team of government-backed negotiators at a meeting at the presidential palace, his office said.

"The release of Taliban prisoners is a clear demonstration of the government's commitment to peace."

Kabul had baulked at the release of the final 400 Taliban inmates who Ghani described as "a danger to the world", before a group of prominent Afghans approved their release for the sake of peace talks.

A senior government official told AFP on Wednesday on condition of anonymity that at least 200 prisoners have been released since Monday and the process "will continue today too".

The government has not confirmed if the release has been completed.

Paris and Canberra had opposed the released of militants on the list tied to the killing of French and Australian civilians and troops in Afghanistan.

It is not known if those militants have been released.

In return, the militant group has freed four Afghan commandos and are expected to release two more on Wednesday, a Taliban official said.

"We expect the Taliban to live up to their commitments on the release of the remaining captives," Ghani's spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said on Twitter.

The prisoner exchange was agreed in a deal between the Taliban and the United States in February, which said Kabul should release 5,000 militants in return for the Taliban freeing 1,000 Afghan troops.

Ghani said that a "critical stage of peace" had been reached and that the talks would help reduce violence and finalise a permanent ceasefire.

The Taliban have said they were willing to begin negotiations "within a week" of the prisoner swap being completed and blamed Kabul for delaying the negotiations.

Kabul has sent a "small technical team" to Doha to make logistical preparations, Najia Anwari, spokeswoman for the State Ministry for Peace Affairs told AFP.

Anwari said that Kabul's negotiators will also leave for Doha "very soon".