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Taliban and US envoys have discussed the release of 2 American prisoners at third Doha meeting

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ISLAMABAD (AP) — The Taliban’s delegation to the third United Nations-led Doha meeting on increasing engagement with Afghanistan met with U.S. envoys on the sidelines and discussed the two Americans imprisoned in the central Asian country.

Zabihullah Mujahid told reporters in Kabul Wednesday that the meeting aimed at “finding a solution.”

He said: “During our meetings, we talked about the two American citizens who are in prison in Afghanistan,” adding “but they must accept Afghanistan’s conditions. We also have prisoners in America, prisoners in Guantanamo. We should free our prisoners in exchange for them.”

Special Representative Thomas West and Special Envoy Rina Amiri met directly with the Taliban, according to State Department spokesman Vedant Patel. West pressed for “the immediate and unconditional release of U.S. citizens unjustly detained in Afghanistan,” Patel said on Tuesday.

When prodded if there was any headway on the matter, Patel said the issue “was just raised.”

One of the two Americans believed to be held by the Taliban for nearly two years is Ryan Corbett who was abducted Aug. 10, 2022, after returning to Afghanistan, where he and his family had been living at the time of the collapse of the U.S.-backed government there a year earlier.

He arrived on a valid 12-month visa to pay and train staff as part of a business venture he led aimed at promoting Afghanistan’s private sector through consulting services and lending. Corbett has since been shuttled between multiple prisons, though his lawyers say he has not been seen since last December by anyone other than the people with whom he was detained.

It was the first time that representatives of the Afghan Taliban administration attended the UN-sponsored meeting in the Qatari capital on Sunday and Monday that focused on increasing engagement with Afghanistan. However, a U.N. official said Monday the gathering did not translate into a recognition of the Taliban government.

Envoys from some two dozen countries also attended the meetings.

The Taliban were not invited to the first meeting, and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said they set unacceptable conditions for attending the second one, in February, including demands that Afghan civil society members be excluded from the talks and that the Taliban be treated as the country’s legitimate rulers.

Ahead of Doha, representatives of Afghan women were excluded from attending, paving the way for the Taliban to send their envoys — though the organizers insisted that demands for women’s rights would be raised.

Mujahid said there was an opportunity for them to meet with representatives of various countries and they had 24 sideline meetings.

He added that the messages from the Taliban “reached all participating” countries at the meeting. Afghanistan needs cooperation with the private sector and in the fight against drugs, he also said. “Most countries expressed their willingness to cooperate in these areas.”

No country officially recognizes the Taliban and the U.N. has said that recognition remains practically impossible while bans on female education and employment remain in place.

By RAHIM FAIEZ
Associated Press

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