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France, Australia speak out about Taliban prisoners release, transfer ahead of Doha talks

Moscow: The French Foreign Ministry expressed on Friday its discontent with the Afghan government’s decision to release Taliban prisoners who were convicted to sentences for murdering French citizens, and Australia’s high-ranking officials condemned the decision to transfer “sensitive” prisoners to Doha.

According to the statement, which the French ministry published just one day ahead of the intra-Afghan negotiations began in Doha, the Afghan government released two Taliban prisoners, Zia Ahmad and Abdullah Gulam Astagir, who were serving terms in jail for killing Bettina Goislard, a French staffer of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ Afghanistan office.

“France reiterates its resolute opposition to the release of individuals convicted of crimes against French citizens, in particular against soldiers and humanitarian staffers who selflessly cooperated with our Afghan partners for the sake of safety and assistance to people in need,” the French Foreign Ministry said.

French President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian have both outlined this stand in their recent phone conversations with Afghan partners, the statement read on.

“The peace talks, which France is ready to support, should take into consideration the interests and rights of the victims of the Afghan conflict and terrorism. This is a necessary condition for a long-term stabilization and comprehensive safety in the country,” the French Foreign Ministry added.

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, in turn, issued a joint statement against the transfer of “sensitive Afghan prisoners” to Doha. The six Taliban prisoners, who were recently transferred from Afghan jails to Qatar to complete the prisoner exchange, include deserter Hekmatullah, charged for murdering three off-duty Australian soldiers in 2012.

“Australia has steadfastly maintained that Hekmatullah must not be released. We have communicated our position repeatedly and consistently and at the highest level to the Government of Afghanistan, which is solely responsible for his custody, and to the United States … The Australian Government’s long-standing position is that Hekmatullah should serve a full custodial sentence for the crimes for which he was convicted by an Afghan court, and that he should not be released as part of a prisoner amnesty,” Payne and Reynolds said.
Australia has made effort to “keep these six sensitive prisoners separate from the wider goodwill agreement,” the ministers recalled.

In conclusion, Payne and Reynolds reiterated Australia’s support to the Afghan peace process and “all genuine steps taken towards a just, durable and resilient peace arrangement.”

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