Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Afghanistan Taliban commanders freed 'in swap for Indian hostages'

Several senior Taliban members have been released in exchange for three kidnapped Indian engineers, sources in the militant group told the BBC

.

The 11 Taliban reported freed included a member of the militant Haqqani group.

The Indians released on Sunday were part of a group of seven engineers kidnapped more than a year ago with their driver in northern Afghanistan.

The news came after the Taliban were said to have met the US peace envoy for the first time since talks collapsed.

Zalmay Khalilzad reportedly met senior members of the group in Pakistan last week, almost a month after President Donald Trump cancelled secret plans to host a Taliban delegation in the US.

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The prisoner swap was one of the issues discussed at the meeting, sources told the BBC.

Three key Taliban figures were released from prison in Afghanistan, according to the source within the militant group, including the former "shadow" governor of Nimroz province.

The New York Times reported that Abdul Rashid Baluch was previously listed as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist by the US Treasury Department. He was accused of deploying suicide bombers and helping finance the Taliban through the drugs trade in Afghanistan.

A second "shadow" governor for Kunar province, and a member of the powerful Haqqani network, which is said to have been behind co-ordinated attacks on both Afghan and Nato forces in recent years, were also said to be among those released.

Another eight militants were freed as part of the deal, the Associated Press news agency reported.

The Taliban commanders had been held in the high-security prison at Bagram, reports said.

The three Indian engineers have not been named. One of the hostages was released in March this year, while the fate of the rest of their colleagues remained unclear.

There was no immediate comment from the Afghan, US or Indian authorities.

The group, who were working at a power station in the northern province of Baghlan, were taken from a vehicle along with their colleagues and an Afghan driver in May 2018.

Kidnappings are a serious problem in Afghanistan, where gangs or militant groups operate in large areas of the country.

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