Afghan authorities release final 400 Taliban prisoners as part of peace deal

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Afghan authorities said Friday they had started to release 400 Taliban prisoners, the final hurdle in launching long-delayed peace talks between the two warring sides.

A group of 80 prisoners were released on Thursday, said National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal, tweeting that it would “speed up efforts for direct talks and a lasting, nationwide ceasefire”.

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Their release was approved at the weekend by a gathering of thousands of prominent Afghans called by President Ashraf Ghani after the authorities initially refused to free the militants, accused of serious crimes including brutal attacks that killed Afghans and foreigners.

Both sides have said they are ready to begin talks in Doha, Qatar, within days of the prisoners being freed.

The prisoners include some 44 insurgents of particular concern to the United States and other countries for their role in high-profile attacks.

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Ghani warned on Thursday that their release was a “danger” to the world.

“Until this issue, there was a consensus on the desirability of peace but not on the cost of it,” Ghani said in a videoconference organized by a US think tank.

“We have now paid the major instalment on cost and that means peace will have consequences,” he added, noting that the release of “hardened criminals” and drug dealers was “likely to pose a danger both to us and to (America) and to the world”.

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