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Thursday, October 29, 1998 Published at 14:59 GMT

World: South Asia

Afghan POWs set for release

The Taleban controls 90% of the country

The Taleban movement is Afghanistan has said it is planning the largest yet exchange of prisoners of war with the opposition.

[ image: The Taleban: Still not recognised internationally]
The Taleban: Still not recognised internationally
A senior Taleban spokesman, Abdul Hai Mutmaen, said the two sides have agreed to release 1,000 prisoners each.

In a country with few accurate statistics, the precise number of prisoners held by the two sides is unknown, but they both claim to have captured large numbers over the past few years.

A spokesman for the opposition commander, Ahmad Shah Massoud, said his side had already brought 100 Taleban prisoners to the frontline north of Kabul ready for exchange.

Unusual go-between

Both sides have acknowledged the part played in the agreement by, Sayed Jalal, a wealthy young Afghan intellectual, who works as a businessman in Saudi Arabia.

He has met the Taleban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar and Mr Massoud separately to work for a longer term peace.

Last week Sayed Jalal secured the release of 50 Taleban prisoners from the opposition.

Gradual exchange

[ image: Commander Massoud: Holding out against the Taleban]
Commander Massoud: Holding out against the Taleban
The Taleban spokesman, Abdul Hai Mutmaen, said the plan is that once the releases start, 150 prisoners will be freed by each side every day.

Mr Mutmaen said that during these exchanges there will be a ceasefire which will be purely for the purposes of the exchanges.

"The ceasefire is a temporary one only for the exchange of prisoners and does not mean that a political dialogue will start," he said.

There is said to be little fighting anyway at the moment.

Our correspondent in Kabul, William Reeve, reports that Taleban commanders at the frontline north of Kabul say they have been ordered not to fire even if the opposition fires on them.

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