UPDATE 1-Afghan officials to travel for talks with Taliban after agreement on prisoners -sources

KABUL, Sept 3- Afghan negotiators and senior officials were set to fly to Doha on Thursday ahead of planned peace talks with the Taliban, after coming to a compromise over the release of prisoners that was holding up the talks, diplomatic and government sources said. All but seven of the 5,000 prisoners whose release the Taliban demanded have been freed, a source in…

By Hamid Shalizi and Abdul Qadir Sediqi

KABUL, Sept 3 (Reuters) – Afghan negotiators and seniorofficials were set to fly to Doha on Thursday ahead of plannedpeace talks with the Taliban, after coming to a compromise overthe release of prisoners that was holding up the talks,diplomatic and government sources said.

All but seven of the 5,000 prisoners whose release theTaliban demanded have been freed, a source in thegovernment-appointed peace council and a diplomatic source inKabul said. Both the government and the Taliban declinedcomment.

It was not immediately clear when the talks would start, buta government source said they could begin as soon as Saturday.

Mohammad Masoom Stanekzai, the chief of thegovernment-mandated negotiation team, said in a tweet that hisgroup would “soon” start peace talks.

The United States-brokered negotiations have been stalledfor months as the Taliban demanded the release of 5,000 of itsprisoners as a pre-condition.

The release of the final batch of 400 prisoners has beendebated for weeks since the government blamed them for some ofthe worst violence in the country. They included a small numberof prisoners whose release was objected to by Western powers,including France and Australia, due to their involvement inattacks on foreign forces.

The plan was for the seven remaining prisoners to betransferred to Doha where they would be kept under supervision,five sources told Reuters.

“These seven prisoners were members of the Afghan NationalSecurity Forces who were arrested on charges of ‘green on blue’attacks. They will be shifted to Doha,” said an Afghan official.

The United States has been trying to broker peace talksbetween the Afghan government and the Taliban to end 19 years ofwar since Washington signed a troop withdrawal deal with theinsurgent group in February.(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi, Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Rupam Jain,Charlotte Greenfield and Jibran Ahmad; writing by CharlotteGreenfield; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

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