April 13 (UPI) -- The Taliban has released 20 Afghan government inmates in a first step toward a brokered inmate swap intended to advance intra-Afghan peace talks between the group and the government.
The Taliban said it released the prisoners in the southern province of Kandahar late Sunday, saying they were handed over to representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross. The militant group said it also released pictures of the freed prisoners.
The planned swaps have been contentious from the start when they were first announced as part of the peace agreement between the militant group and U.S. negotiators weeks ago.
The Afghan government initially balked at releasing prisoners and the Taliban recalled its negotiators last week over what it called lack of progress.
The Afghan National Security Council said Sunday it has released 100 Taliban prisoners, bringing the total to 300. Under the peace deal, the Taliban is to release 1,000 Afghan government troops and civilians and Kabul will return about 5,000 militants.
"Welcome the release of prisoners by both the Afghan government and the Taliban," Khalilzad tweeted. "The release of prisoners is an important step in the peace process and the reduction of violence."
Friday, U.S. Gen. Austin "Scott" Miller met with Taliban leaders amid accusations that both sides had violated their end of the February agreement. The Taliban accused the United States of keeping up raids and drone attacks, which U.S. officials have denied.
The peace deal, in which the United States said it will withdraw forces from Afghanistan, is contingent upon the intra-Afghan talks.