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Afghan government announces talks with Taliban, prisoner swap

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday that talks between the government and the Taliban would start in a week. File Photo by Jawad Jalali/EPA-EFE 
Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said Tuesday that talks between the government and the Taliban would start in a week. File Photo by Jawad Jalali/EPA-EFE 

July 28 (UPI) -- The Afghan government announced Tuesday that its peace talks with the Taliban will start in a week, along with a prisoner swap.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said that a prisoner swap would be completed and direct peace negotiations would start in a week.

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A prisoner swap has been awaited since a deal was signed between the United States and the Taliban in February initiating the phased withdrawal of U.S. troops under the condition of the Taliban releasing 1,000 prisoners and Kabul releasing about 5,000 Taliban prisoners in a swap.

"The Islamic Republic will soon complete the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners," according to a presidential place statement on Twitter, NBC News reported. "With this action, we look forward to the start of direct negotiation with the Taliban."

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The Taliban did not confirm the peace talks, and two senior Taliban leaders told NBC News, on condition of anonymity, that they had not yet decided to meet with the Afghan government next week.

However, soon after Ghani's announcement of the prisoner swap, the Taliban announced a three-day cease-fire for the Muslim festival of Eid al-Fitr.

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"The Afghan government welcomes the announcement of a cease-fire by the Taliban in Eid days, but the people wanted a lasting cease-fire," the president's spokesman, Sediq Sediqqi, said in response. "The Afghan government has taken all necessary steps to show its commitment for the peace process and calls on the Taliban to show commitment too. The Afghan people are tired of war and it must end."

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Under the February deal, the prisoner swap was initially expected to be done in 10 days, clearing the way for peace talks between the government and the Taliban, but disagreements over the swap have delayed progress. Still, the United States began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in March. By April, more than 80 civilians had been killed and more than 100 had been injured, according to Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission analysis.

At an event in Kabul Tuesday, Ghani said 3,560 Afghan forces had been killed and nearly 6,800 had been injured since the February deal.

In the same period, 775 civilians had been killed and 1,609 others had been injured, Ghani added.

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"The window of opportunity is narrowing, as Afghan women and men are seeing the continuation of carnage instead of a peace dividend," Ghani said.

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