Afghan gov’t to free 900 prisoners; Taliban may extend truce

A Taliban prisoner drinks water from a canister as he sits on a vehicle during his release from the Bagram prison, next to the US military base in Bagram, some 50 km north of Kabul. (AFP)
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Updated 26 May 2020

Afghan gov’t to free 900 prisoners; Taliban may extend truce

  • The announcement came as a three-day cease-fire with the insurgents draws to an end

KABUL: The Afghan government announced it would free 900 prisoners on Tuesday, its single largest prisoner release since the US and the Taliban signed a peace deal earlier this year that spells out an exchange of detainees between the warring sides.
The announcement came as a three-day cease-fire with the insurgents draws to an end. The Taliban had called for the truce during the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Fitr that marks the end of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.
There are expectations that the prisoner release could lead to new reductions in violence, and Taliban officials say they are considering an extension of the cease-fire.
A senior Taliban figure confirmed this to The Associated Press.
“If these developments, like the announcement of prisoner release continues, it is possible to move forward with decisions like extending the brief cease-fire and to move in a positive direction with some minor issues,” the Taliban official said.
The prisoners were being released from Bagram prison, where the US still maintains a major military base, north of Kabul, as well as from the infamous Pul-e-Charkhi prison on the eastern edge of the Afghan capital.
By late afternoon, the AP witnessed scores of men pouring out of the Bagram compound — presumably the released prisoners. It was not immediately possible to verify their numbers or whether they were all Taliban members.
The prisoner release is part of the US deal with the Taliban, signed on Feb. 29 to allow for the eventual withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan, bringing to an end the country’s protracted war and America’s longest military involvement.
When the deal was signed, it was touted as Afghanistan’s best chance for peace after decades of war but political feuding in Kabul and delays in prisoner exchanges have slowed the deal’s progress toward intra-Afghan negotiations, considered the second and most critical phase of the accord.
Under the deal, Kabul is to release 5,000 Taliban prisoners while the insurgents are to free 1,000 captives they hold, mostly government officials and Afghan forces, before intra-Afghan negotiations can begin.
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had welcomed the Taliban cease-fire announcement during the Muslim holiday.
Javid Faisal, a national security spokesman in Kabul, urged the Taliban to extend the cease-fire and said the government would release 900 prisoners on Tuesday.
That would bring to 2,000 the number of Taliban prisoners released so far under the US-Taliban deal. The Taliban say they have released 240 of captives they held.
However, the Taliban have yet to confirm whether those released so far by the government were among the 5,000 names the insurgents had given US negotiator Zalmay Khalilzad, the architect of the Feb. 29 deal.
A second Taliban official told the AP that those released so far were n fact on the Taliban list of demands, including the uncle of Taliban chief Hibatullah Akhundzada. Key in deciding which names would appear on the list was Mullah Nooruddin Turabi, a senior figure who had recently recovered from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus.
Turabi was the much feared vice and virtue minister during the Taliban rule, known for beating men who were found listening to music or not attending the mosque. He once slapped a Taliban commander who spoke with a woman journalist.
Both Taliban officials spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to reporters.
Many Afghans have expressed frustration at the slow and often stalled peace process; many have known only conflict in their homeland for the past several decades.
“If both sides stop this war and sit at the negotiating table ... maybe my youngest children will experience a good life, which we never experienced,” said Sayed Agha, a truck driver from eastern Logar province who was wounded in April, caught in the crossfire during a battle between the Taliban and Afghan soldiers.
“I have spent my whole life in war,” said Agha, 45.


France backs calls for EU sanctions on Turkey

Updated 19 September 2020

France backs calls for EU sanctions on Turkey

  • Cypriot officials insist the EU shouldn’t set a ‘double standard’ by imposing sanctions against Belarus for alleged voter fraud while avoiding doing so when Turkey carries on its exploration at the expense of EU members

JEDDAH: France on Friday backed Cyprus’ calls for the EU to consider imposing tougher sanctions on Turkey if the Turkish government won’t suspend its search for energy reserves in eastern Mediterranean waters where Cyprus and Greece claim exclusive economic rights.

French Minister for European Affairs Clement Beaune said sanctions should be among the options the 27-member bloc considers employing if Turkey continues to “endanger the security and sovereignty of a member state.”

“But we consider that the union should also be ready to use all the instruments at its disposal, among them one of sanctions, if the situation didn’t evolve positively,” Beaune said after talks with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides in Nicosia.

A European Parliament resolution has called for sanctions against Turkey unless it showed “sincere cooperation and concrete progress” in defusing tensions with Greece and Cyprus.

Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Turkey and now analyst at Carnegie Europe, said the resolution reflected the views of a democratically elected parliament from across the bloc. “This is not ‘country X against country Y,’ it is the aggregated view of the European Parliament,” he told Arab News.

EU leaders are set to hold a summit in a few days to discuss how to respond to Turkey prospecting in areas of the sea that Greece and Cyprus insist are only theirs to explore.

Turkey triggered a naval stand-off with NATO ally Greece after dispatching a warship-escorted research vessel in a part of the eastern Mediterranean that Greece says is over its continental shelf. Greece deployed its own warship and naval patrols in response.

Greek and Turkish military officers are also holding talks at NATO headquarters to work out ways of ensuring that any standoff at sea doesn’t descend into open conflict.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said Turkey’s withdrawal of its survey ship and warship escorts was a positive step, but that Greece needs to make sure Ankara is sincere.

He said a list of sanctions will be put before EU leaders at next week’s summit and whether they’ll be implemented will depend on Turkey’s actions. “I’m hoping that it won’t become necessary to reach that point,” Dendias said.

Cypriot officials insist the EU shouldn’t set a “double standard” by imposing sanctions against Belarus for alleged voter fraud and police brutality while avoiding doing so when Turkey carries on its exploration at the expense of EU members.

Meanwhile, the EU is set to announce sanctions on Monday against three companies from Turkey, Jordan and Kazakhstan which are accused of violating a UN arms embargo on Libya, diplomats told AFP.