Tue, 02 Jun 2020

Three members of Afghanistan's Taliban have arrived in Kabul to "monitor" the government's release of imprisoned Taliban militants as part of a peace deal signed by the Taliban and the United States in late February, the militant group says.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the "technical" team arrived in Kabul on March 31, marking the first time an official Taliban delegation has been in the Afghan capital since the group was driven from power by U.S.-led forces in November 2001.

There was no immediate comment from Afghan government officials about the Taliban team's arrival.

But Jawed Faisal, spokesman for the Afghan National Security Adviser's office, said the Afghan government and the Taliban had agreed that the militants should send a team to Kabul for face-to-face talks on the release of prisoners.

The proposed release is part of a deal signed by the United States and the Taliban in Doha on February 29. It calls for the Afghan government to release 5,000 detained Taliban fighters as a confidence-building measure ahead of formal peace talks.

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

Under the U.S.-Taliban deal, Taliban representatives also agreed to commit to direct talks with the Afghan government aimed at ending the country's 18-year conflict.

In return for the start of talks and a series of security commitments from the Taliban, all U.S. troops and other foreign coalition forces are meant to withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months.

A power struggle between President Ashraf Ghani and his main rival in Afghanistan's 2019 presidential election, former Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Abdullah, has threatened to derail the peace process.

But Abdullah on March 31 vowed that he would ensure their political dispute "does not overshadow peace efforts.'

Last week, the Afghan government unveiled a 21-member team that would be tasked with negotiating with the Taliban.

Abdullah said the team 'represents the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan and our national interests."

"We still have time to discuss the team's reporting mechanism and the source of its authorities,' Abdullah said.

In Washington, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has praised Kabul's negotiating team as "pretty inclusive, pretty broad' -- saying he was 'happy about that.'

Meanwhile, the European Union said it has offered "full support' to Kabul's negotiating team, which it said constitutes "an important step towards starting intra-Afghan negotiations and solving the domestic political crisis."

The EU also called on the Taliban to "show genuine commitment to peace negotiations and to reduce violence and engage in meaningful discussions" on a cease-fire.

With reporting by AP, AIP, and RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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