KABUL, Afghanistan

Afghanistan’s top peace negotiator on Saturday said the government is ready to start direct talks with the Taliban “at any moment.”

Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said the current reduction in violence and ongoing prisoner swaps have set the tone for launching the peace talks.

The three-day truce for Eid al-Fitr ended earlier this week, and there have been at least three attacks on government forces since then.

“There must be a fresh ceasefire during the talks,” he said at a news conference on his first day as chairman of the council.

Meanwhile, the Taliban announced the release of 73 Afghan soldiers on Saturday.

Suhail Shaheen, spokesman for the group’s political office in Qatar, said in a tweet that the soldiers were freed from prisons in Balkh, Kunduz, Logar, Paktia, Khost, and Paktika provinces.

He said the group has now released 420 Afghan security personnel.

The release of the prisoners comes after the government and the Taliban resumed technical talks for the stalled prisoner swap process earlier this week.

In another statement on Saturday, the Taliban urged foreign powers to refrain from trying to influence any future government setup in Afghanistan.

The group’s spokesperson Zabiullah Mujahid criticized the EU Foreign Affairs Council’s statement issued on Friday, which said the EU “will condition its future political and financial support.”

It said the EU aims “to ensure that the republican, democratic, and values-based principles are protected and further promoted.”

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