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Taliban Breaks Off 'Fruitless' Talks With Afghan Government On Prisoner Exchange

07 Apr 2020 Gandhara - RFE/RL

The Taliban says it has broken off talks with the Afghan government on a prisoner exchange, a main step in peace talks being brokered by the United States.

Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Qatar, tweeted on April 7 that a technical team would not participate in "fruitless meetings."

Shaheen blamed the administration of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani for delaying the prisoner release "under one pretext or another."

Javid Faisal, a spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council in Kabul, called on the Taliban not to "sabotage the process by making excuses."

Afghan government officials have said the Taliban was demanding the release of senior commanders involved in some of the most violent attacks in recent years.

The suspension of the talks could lead to an escalation of violence, which in turn could threaten the plan to withdraw U.S. troops under a pact signed by the United States and the Taliban in the Qatari capital, Doha, on February 29.

The deal calls for the Afghan government to release 5,000 detained Taliban fighters as a confidence-building measure ahead of formal peace talks aimed at ending the country's 18-year conflict.

The Taliban has vowed to release some 1,000 Afghan government troops and civilian workers it is holding.

The U.S.-led international forces are to withdraw in exchange for Taliban security guarantees, but peace hinges on talks between the Afghan government and the militants.

The two sides have been holding talks in Kabul since last week to try to finalize the prisoner swap originally set to happen by March 10.

On April 5, the Taliban claimed they had reduced their attacks compared with last year and warned that continued violations of the terms of the Doha deal by the United States and the Afghan government would create "an atmosphere of mistrust" that would "damage the agreements" and "increase the level of fighting."

A U.S. military spokesman rejected the militants' accusations as "baseless."

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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