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Taliban suspects released after Afghan jirga deal

By Sayed Salahuddin

KABUL (Reuters) - Fourteen suspected Taliban prisoners have been released in Afghanistan after their cases were reviewed as part of a peace deal that seeks to win over insurgent foot soldiers, an official said on Monday.

Twelve prisoners were freed from U.S. detention in Bagram while two would-be suicide bombers were released from Afghan custody, said deputy attorney general Fazl Ahmad Faqiryar.

The decision to review the cases came after a "jirga," or gathering, of Afghan tribal leaders and other notables earlier this month approved a plan by President Hamid Karzai to seek a peace deal with moderate elements of the Taliban, who have waged an insurgency since being overthrown in 2001.

Among other things, the plan called for the cases of all prisoners in Afghan jails, including Taliban suspects, to be re-examined, with allegations that many were imprisoned on false charges or by flimsy evidence.

"The releases are in pursuance of the implementation of the peace jirga's resolution," Faqiryar told Reuters. "Twelve were freed from Bagram and the other two from the interior ministry."

He said those released from Bagram had been captured separately across the country while the other two -- one a Pakistani and both aged under 18 -- were suicide bombers who surrendered before carrying out their mission.

The jirga also called for the removal of names of militant leaders from United Nations blacklists and peace talks with those who renounce violence.

There was no immediate comment from the Taliban about the prisoners' release but the militant group has repeatedly dismissed all peace overtures, saying it will continue to fight until all foreign forces have left.

Hundreds of suspected militant prisoners without access to lawyers or other rights, have been languishing in jails run by foreign and Afghan forces for years.

While Karzai's order to review prisoners' cases, based on the jirga's proposals, only referred to the roughly 15,000 detainees in Afghan jails, the U.S. military has said the review would also apply to U.S. military prisons.

Speaking to reporters in Kabul last week, the deputy commander for U.S. detention operations in Afghanistan, Brigadier General Mark Martins, said 25 prisoners at the U.S. Bagram prison would be released "soon" in coordination with Karzai's new committee set up to review detainees' cases.

Since January, 114 prisoners have been released from Bagram under a new system, detention review boards, set up by Washington last year allowing detainees' hearings to contest their detention and military "personal representatives" who are not lawyers.

However, in a marked shift in U.S. detention policy after years of international criticism, the U.S. military allowed the first Afghan detainees at Bagram to stand trial before an Afghan judge and with Afghan defense lawyers.

There are around 1,000 prisoners being held at foreign military detention centers in Afghanistan, more than 800 of those at Bagram, north of the capital.

(Reporting by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Miral Fahmy)

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