KABUL, Afghanistan

As a rare cease-fire draws to an end, the Afghan government on Tuesday announced it will free 900 more Taliban fighters, hoping to extend the truce and push forward the peace process.

Javed Faisal, spokesperson of the National Security Council, said the release process had started and the government was keen to start the long-due direct talks with the Taliban.

The announcement came a day after Kabul released 100 Taliban prisoners as a goodwill gesture, following the Taliban’s unexpected three-day truce declaration for the Muslim holiday festival of Eid al-Fitr.

On Sunday, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani ordered the start of the process to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners and said his government was ready to begin the long-awaited talks with the insurgent group.

“The winner of peace will be the Afghan people. War only brings destruction and misery, especially to Afghan women, who suffer the most,” the president said in an address outside the presidential palace’s mosque on the first day of Eid.

The international community welcomed the unexpected cease-fire, which was only the second such brief truce in the otherwise deadly insurgency, now in its 19th year.

Zalmay Khalilzad, US envoy for Afghanistan reconciliation, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg advised both sides to use the opportunity to move the peace process forward.

Germany, Indonesia, Norway, Uzbekistan, and Qatar also voiced their support and urged Kabul and the Taliban to pursue the proposed intra-Afghan peace talks without further delay.

As per the US-Taliban peace deal signed in Doha earlier this year, the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 government personnel is a requisite for the intra-Afghan talks.

According to official sources, there are some 12,000-15,000 Taliban fighters, including militants from Pakistan, Central Asia, and Gulf countries, in government prisons across Afghanistan.

No figures are available on captives held by the insurgents.

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