US hails Afghan ceasefire as hopes for peace talks rise


Top US officials on Wednesday hailed a three-day ceasefire proposed by the Taliban and agreed by Kabul, raising hopes that the long-delayed peace talks between the two foes could begin next week.

The Taliban declared that the truce would start on Friday, the first day of the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, and continue for the duration of the religious holiday.

The ceasefire offer, the second such truce proposal from the militants in just over two months, came soon after President Ashraf Ghani signalled progress in a contentious prisoner exchange that has delayed the start of peace talks.

A top US official who negotiated a deal with the Taliban in February to help withdraw foreign forces from Afghanistan by May next year hailed the ceasefire offer.

"We welcome the Taliban announcement of an Eid ceasefire and the Afghan government's reciprocal announcement," Zalmay Khalilzad said on Twitter on Wednesday. "Our hope is this Eid brings all Afghans together in understanding & mutual respect and one step closer to a sustainable peace."

The top US diplomat in Kabul, Ross Wilson, also voiced hope that the two sides would move quickly to the negotiating table. "Afghans deserve to celebrate the holiday in peace," he wrote on Twitter late on Tuesday.

The Taliban proposed the ceasefire after Ghani said his government was ready for talks next week.

"To demonstrate the government's commitment to peace, the Islamic Republic will soon complete the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners," Ghani told officials, referring to the number of insurgent inmates the government originally pledged to free under the auspices of the US-Taliban deal. "With this action, we look forward to the start of direct negotiations with the Taliban in a week's time."

Ghani's spokesman Sediq Sediqqi told AFP that Kabul would observe the ceasefire, but cautioned it did not go far enough. "The people of Afghanistan demand a lasting ceasefire and the start of direct talks between the Taliban and the government of Afghanistan," Sediqqi said. (AFP)

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