Sun, 27 Sep 2020

The Afghan government will convene a grand assembly of elders, known as the Loya Jirga, in Kabul on August 7 to decide the fate of hundreds of Taliban prisoners that Taliban leaders insist should be released before they join peace talks with the government.

Last week, President Ashraf Ghani ordered the release of 500 Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture amid a three-day cease-fire proposed by the Taliban and agreed to by the government. That cease-fire took effect on July 31.

During a televised speech on July 31, Ghani said the government had released 4,600 Taliban prisoners out of the 5,000 pledged in a landmark agreement signed in February by the United States and Afghanistan's Taliban.

But Ghani said he had 'no authority' under the country's constitution to release the remaining 400 inmates on the Taliban's list because of their involvement in serious crimes.

Ghani then announced he would summon a consultative Loya Jirga to decide the fate of the remaining 400 prisoners on the Taliban's list.

'These 400 are those who have been convicted in killings from two to 40 people, drug trafficking, those sentenced to death and involved in major crimes, including kidnapping,' Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesman for Ghani, said as he announced the date of the Loya Jirga.

The Taliban says it has freed all 1,000 prisoners it had pledged in the agreement with U.S. negotiators. The Taliban insists on its demand for the release of the remaining 400 prisoners on its list.

Ghani has called on the Taliban to enter into peace talks as soon as possible.

The United States has reportedly proposed the Taliban prisoners be transferred from Afghan jails to a location where they would be under both Taliban and Afghan government surveillance.

Of the 400 Taliban prisoners left, around 200 are accused by the Afghan government of masterminding attacks on embassies, public squares, and government offices, killing thousands of civilians in recent years.

Held under a giant tent, the Loya Jirga is a centuries-old institution used to build consensus among Afghanistan's rival tribes, factions, and ethnic groups.

They are traditionally convened under extraordinary circumstances to discuss matters of national importance.

Since the U.S.-Taliban agreement in February, 3,560 Afghan security personnel have been killed in attacks by militants, Ghani said last week.

He said thousands more were wounded.

The same week, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said in a report that more than 1,280 Afghan civilians had been killed during the first half of 2020 -- mainly as a result of fighting between government forces and Taliban militants.

With reporting by Reuters

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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