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Taliban could swap inmates for truce: Afghan govt peace chief

The Taliban could offer a truce in exchange for the release of its jailed fighters, the head of the peace process for the Afghan government said as talks opened Saturday.

The beginning of the US-backed negotiations were marked with a slick ceremony in a luxury hotel in Doha, but major differences divide the two camps meaning a quick breakthrough is unlikely.

Abdullah Abdullah, the chairman of Afghanistan’s High Council for National Reconciliation, said “it could be the case” that the Taliban would demand further prisoner releases before committing to a temporary halt to violence.

Under the terms of the force withdrawal deal struck between the US and the Taliban in Doha in February, 5,000 Taliban prisoners have already been released in exchange for 1,000 government forces.

“This could be one of their ideas or one of their demands,” Abdullah told AFP in the interview without ruling out the idea.

“It is for the negotiating team to find out what are the things which can help us seize the moment.”

In his opening speech, Abdullah called for an immediate, humanitarian ceasefire — but his plea went unanswered by Taliban co-founder Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar who made no mention of a truce in his opening remarks.

The Taliban have long worried that reducing violence could lessen their leverage but have implemented two temporary ceasefires in the past year alone.

Asked if the approaching US presidential elections in November were the reason for the vigour of Washington’s diplomacy, Abdullah said “they have intensified it in the past few months”.

“But the urgency is really with the Afghan people,” he added.

“The Moria camp (is) the destiny of many Afghan families, large numbers of them, because of the continuation of the war,” he said referring to Greece’s Moria camp which burned down this week and was home to many Afghans.

“It couldn’t be more timely or more urgently needed,” Abdullah said.

Both sides got to work immediately after the opening ceremony, Abdullah said, with wrangling already underway on a code of conduct and timetable for the talks.