Afghanistan to free 900 Taliban, urges ceasefire extension

KABUL (Reuters) – The Afghan government urged the Taliban to extend a three-day ceasefire set to end on Tuesday night, while announcing it would free 900 members of the insurgent group in the biggest such release yet.

The release is part of a prisoner swap under a deal struck by the Taliban and the United States in Doha in February, as a precursor to peace talks between the Islamist militants and an inclusive Afghan delegation aiming to end a two-decade-old war.

“For better management of the prisoner issue, it is important to extend the ceasefire,” Javid Faisal, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s national security adviser, told a news conference.

Such an extension was key to avoiding further bloodshed and the Afghan government was ready for it, Faisal added.

The Taliban had announced a three-day ceasefire for the Eid al-Fitr holiday that ends the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in a move welcomed by both the Afghan and U.S. governments.

But the Taliban have yet to say if they are willing to extend the ceasefire after it expires at midnight (1930 GMT).

Last month, the group rejected a call by the Afghan government for a Ramadan ceasefire.

Fighting between the Taliban and Afghan forces had intensified before the ceasefire, and the government said it would resume an offensive against the militant group in the wake of its deadly attacks nationwide this month.

The process of releasing prisoners began in April, but has been slow and marred by wrangling between the Taliban and the government, which was to release 5,000 prisoners under the Doha pact, while the Taliban freed 1,000 Afghan security forces.

So far, the government has released just 1,000 prisoners and the Taliban 105, Faisal, the spokesman of adviser Hamdullah Mohib, told Reuters before the news conference.

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