France opposes Afghanistan freeing Taliban who killed its citizens

Three men jailed for the murders of French nationals in Afghanistan are among 400 Taliban prisoners to be freed by Kabul

epa08602640 A handout photo made available by the National Security Council (NSC) of Afghanistan shows Taliban prisoners preparing to leave from a government prison in Kabul, Afghanistan, 13 August 2020 (issued 14 August 2020). Afghanistan's National Security Council announced that at least 80 Taliban prisoners out of 400 have been released from jail. The prisoners' release is a pre-condition for the intra-Afghan talks.  EPA/AFGHANISTAN NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL HANDOUT -- BEST QUALITY AVAILABLE -- HANDOUT EDITORIAL USE ONLY/NO SALES

France has asked the Afghan government not to include Taliban fighters convicted of killing French citizens in a prisoner release deal, the foreign ministry said on Saturday.

The Afghan government has agreed to release 400 "hard-core" prisoners as part of moves towards peace talks with the Taliban militants, and an official said on Friday that 80 of these convicts had been freed so far.

The government and the Taliban are set to meet within days of the prisoner release being completed, a move that has drawn widespread condemnation after it emerged that many of the inmates were involved in attacks that killed scores of Afghans and foreigners.

The group of prisoners includes two men who murdered Frenchwoman Bettina Goislard, an employee of the UN refugee agency, in the eastern city of Ghazni on November 16, 2003, and a former Afghan soldier who killed five French troops and injured 13 others in 2012 in Kapisa province.

"France is particularly concerned by the presence, among the individuals liable to be released, of several terrorists convicted of killing French citizens in Afghanistan," the foreign ministry said.

"It firmly opposes the liberation of individuals convicted of crimes against French nationals, in particular soldiers and humanitarian workers," it said.

"As a result, we have immediately asked the Afghan authorities not to proceed with the release of these terrorists."

Goislard's family has also strongly denounced the move.

Disagreement over the release of the prisoners, who include individuals linked to some of Afghanistan's bloodiest attacks, has already delayed peace negotiations for months as the United States withdraws troops under a deal signed with the Taliban in February.

President Ashraf Ghani has said the US-backed release is a necessary development highlighting the "cost" of making peace.

But for some victims' families, it is a step too far.

It "felt like being stabbed in the heart with a knife", said Juma Khan, 77, as he recalled watching Afghan leaders gather to debate and eventually approve the release.

Mr Khan's son, Aziz Ahmad Naween, an IT specialist, was killed in a massive lorry bombing near the German embassy in May 2017 while heading to work. He was 24.

"That was the worst day of my life. I fell unconscious on seeing the body of my young son in a coffin," Mr Khan told AFP at his home in Kabul.

"We all want peace, but they never asked for our opinion, the victims," he said.