The Afghan government and militant group have been negotiating in Kabul since last week but finalising a prisoner swap has been beset with problems. Meanwhile, at least seven civilians were killed in a Taliban attack in Balkh, local officials said.

FILE PHOTO: Members of Afghanistan's Taliban delegation (R) gather ahead of an agreement signing between them and US officials in Doha, Qatar on February 29, 2020.
FILE PHOTO: Members of Afghanistan's Taliban delegation (R) gather ahead of an agreement signing between them and US officials in Doha, Qatar on February 29, 2020. (Reuters)

The Afghan government will release 100 Taliban prisoners on Wednesday, an official told AFP a day after the insurgents said they were walking out of talks with Kabul.

The two foes have been negotiating in Kabul since last week to try to finalise a prisoner swap that was originally supposed to have happened by March 10 and pave the way for "intra-Afghan" peace talks between Kabul and the Taliban.

But the swap has been beset with problems, with Kabul claiming the Taliban want 15 "top commanders" to be released, while the insurgents have accused Afghan authorities of needlessly wasting time.

"One hundred Taliban prisoners will be released today," said Javid Faisal, spokesman for Afghanistan's Office of the National Security Council.

"We are doing our part in the agreement. The peace process should move forward."

Faisal said the 15 commanders were not among those being released, and additional prisoners would be freed "depending on what the Taliban do".

The insurgents did not immediately comment.

The United States signed a deal with the Taliban in late February that required the Afghan government –– which was not a signatory to the accord –– to free 5,000 Taliban prisoners and for the insurgents to release 1,000 pro-government captives in return.

In the accord, Washington promised the withdrawal of US and foreign troops from Afghanistan by July next year, provided the Taliban start talks with Kabul and adhere to other guarantees.

On Tuesday, the Taliban's political spokesman Suhail Shaheen accused the administration of President Ashraf Ghani of "intentionally postponing the release and breaching the deal".

He said the Taliban would pull their negotiators out of "fruitless" discussions with the Afghan government over the prisoner swap.

Violence continues

At least seven Afghan civilians were killed when the Taliban attacked security forces in northern Balkh province, local officials said on Wednesday.

The insurgents abducted the civilians on Tuesday afternoon in the district of Sholgara and later killed them, according to Sayed Arif Iqbali, the local police chief.

There was no immediate confirmation from the Taliban that they were behind the attack in Balkh.

In the southern Kandahar province, three children were killed and five were seriously wounded when a mortar shell hit in the district of Daman, according to Bahir Ahmadi, the spokesman for the provincial governor.

The Taliban blamed US forces for the attack, and a Taliban spokesman, Qari Yusouf Ahmadi, claimed the children were killed in a drone attack. However, US military spokesman Sonny Leggett denied any use of weapons in the area.

Ahmadi, the governor's spokesman, said an investigation was launched into the mortar attack on Tuesday evening.

“We reiterate our calls for the Taliban to reduce the violence,” Leggett tweeted.

The attacks come as Afghanistan braces for the new coronavirus, which has killed at least 14 people from among 423 confirmed cases.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies