Afghan head of peace talks says his team is ready for dialogue with Taliban

Abdullah Abdullah insisted on ceasefire during the talks

epa08453649 Afghan Chairman of the High Council for National Reconciliation, Abdullah Abdullah speaks during a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, 30 May 2020. Abdullah, who has been appointed to lead peace talks with the Taliban, said that his team is ready to start negotiations 'at any time' with the insurgents, media reported.  EPA/HEDAYATULLAH AMID
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A senior Afghan official appointed to lead the much-anticipated peace talks with the Taliban said on Saturday that his team was ready to begin dialogue with the insurgents "at any moment".

Abdullah Abdullah, who heads a council to represent the government in negotiations, said an ongoing lull in violence following a surprise ceasefire offered by the insurgents had set the tone for discussions.

"The announcement of the ceasefire, a reduction in violence and the exchange of prisoners have all paved the way for a good beginning," Mr Abdullah said at his first press conference since taking on the role.

"The negotiating team is ready to begin the talks at any moment," he said.

However, he insisted on a ceasefire during the talks.

The Taliban offered a rare three-day ceasefire that ended on Tuesday night to mark the Eid Al Fitr festival.

Officials blamed the Taliban for carrying out some deadly attacks against security forces since it ended, but also acknowledged an overall fall in violence across much of the country.

The government responded by accelerating the release of hundreds of Taliban prisoners.

Peace talks between the government and Taliban were scheduled to begin before March 10.

US President Donald Trump's administration has made it a priority to end America's longest war, and US officials have pushed the Taliban and government leaders to hold peace talks in an effort to pull out foreign forces.

Mr Abdullah was appointed to lead the peace talks after he ended his bitter political feud with President Ashraf Ghani earlier this month.

He had announced himself as a rival president after he rejected the result of the September election which was won by incumbent Mr Ghani.

The political feud and delays over the prisoner exchange helped delay the talks.

But with the end of the dispute, the Afghan government team appeared united, a member of Mr Abdullah's negotiating team said.

"We were not on the same page, now we all are united, (we are) all on the same page on the question of peace," said Matin Bek, a senior government official.

He said the talks with Taliban could start next month.