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3-Day Truce, Prisoner Release Deal Inspire Hopes For Reconciliation In Afghanistan : NPR

Muslim worshipers in Kabul offer prayers Sunday at the start of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire during the holiday, a surprising move after months of bloody fighting.

Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

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Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

Muslim worshipers in Kabul offer prayers Sunday at the start of Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The Taliban announced a three-day ceasefire during the holiday, a surprising move after months of bloody fighting.

Wakil Kohsar/AFP via Getty Images

Since the U.S. and the Taliban agreed to a deal that American officials applauded as a path to peace, Afghanistan has endured months of anything but. The spring has brought bloodshed, acrimony and few signs that the Afghan government and the Islamist militant group were any closer to reconciliation — until Sunday.

That glimmer of hope arrived with the first day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday, commemorating the end of the holy month of Ramadan, when the Taliban unilaterally declared a three-day cease-fire beginning Sunday. Shortly afterward, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani announced that the government had accepted the truce proposal and was initiating a process to release up to 2,000 Taliban prisoners.

The prisoner release is a “good will gesture” carried out specifically in response to the Taliban’s decision, according to presidential spokesperson Sediq Sediqqi. Ghani’s government “is extending the offer of peace and is taking further steps to ensure success of the peace process,” Sediqqi tweeted Sunday.

Ghani said he also received a call from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, expressing gratitude and reiterating the American push for a longer cease-fire and the start of direct negotiations between Afghanistan and the Taliban. So far, those talks have faltered because of disagreements over how and when to carry out the prisoner swaps proposed in the U.S.-Taliban agreement.

That deal, announced in late February, calls for Afghanistan to release 5,000 prisoners and the Taliban to release up to 1,000 Afghan soldiers as a prelude to peace negotiations.

“Peace is the consistent and overwhelming desire of the Afghan people,” Pompeo said in a statement welcoming the cease-fire Sunday. “We hope this ceasefire can build trust. Next, all sides should work together to build on the momentum of this historic Eid ceasefire to move with urgency to intra-Afghan negotiations.”

Still, such negotiations might not come easily. The nearly three months since the U.S.-Taliban announcement has seen a spasm of violence in Afghanistan, much of it carried out by Taliban insurgents against Afghan soldiers. Other Islamist militant groups active in the country — such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida, with whom the Taliban pledged to sever ties — have claimed responsibility for a slew of other attacks. The U.S. blamed ISIS for one particularly gruesome assault on a maternity ward at a Kabul hospital two weeks ago.

Also hindering the proposed peace process was a dispute between Ghani and his principal challenger for the presidency, Abdullah Abdullah. The rivals settled their spat earlier this month with a power-sharing agreement, which positioned Abdullah as leader of the peace talks with the Taliban.

“Peace is the priority of the people of Afghanistan,” Abdullah said after the Taliban announced its cease-fire, adding: “We welcome any positive step that helps us end the war, put an end to the long suffering of our nation & achieve a just & durable peace.”

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#FreeBlackMamas Demand Prisoner Release – PopularResistance.Org

#FreeBlackMamas Demand Prisoner Release

#FreeBlackMamas Demand Prisoner Release2020-05-19PopularResistance.Org×1130-e1589910855757.jpg200px200px

Above photo: Sisters at the May 15 protest hold the child of one and the photograph of their mother, the child’s grandmother, now imprisoned in Philadelphia.  Joe Piette.

Philadelphia – Protesters, led by currently and formerly incarcerated women, trans and non gender-binary people, held a rally on May 15 in a city park next to Riverside Correctional Facility to demand the release of people held in Philadelphia jails and an end to unjust cash bail. The action featured speeches by women recently released from RCF, as well as people still incarcerated who joined by phone. Everyone respected social distancing and mask requirements due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Organizers on both sides of the prison walls planned the action. It was broadcast via radio so incarcerated people could listen to the speakers. Huge signs with slogans reading, “Free Our People!” and “Free Black Mamas!” were held up for people at RCF to see. In turn, they made noise and banged on cell doors to join the protest and demand their release.

Most people held in RCF have not been convicted of any crime, but are held there because they cannot afford bail, or because a judge refused to allow bail. In Philadelphia, which is the poorest large city in the U.S., the vast majority of incarcerated people are detained because it is impossible for them to raise even a few hundred dollars for bail.

Latonya Meyers, organizer of the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, said: “We are demanding that District Attorney Krasner, the First Judicial District Judges and Mayor Jim Kenney take immediate action to free all our people from the Philly jails. It is completely unacceptable that in the midst of a global pandemic we are putting people’s lives at risk unless they can afford to purchase their freedom. All our mamas and families behind bars need to come home now.”

Jae Garcia, an organizer of the action, who is currently incarcerated at RCF, spoke by phone: “We should not be sentenced to death by incarceration in a pandemic. None of us want to be the next statistic reported dead at RCF. We need the mayor, district attorney and judges to open their eyes and realize that all our lives are at stake here. There are thousands of people here that need to go home to their families and children. We should not be locked up with the key thrown out, especially when most of us are pretrial and innocent until proven guilty.”

Organizer Luz Acevedo stated: “I don’t think we should die in jail like animals die in cages. There’s nothing we can do in there; we are locked in. Our rights are taken totally away. When this epidemic hits RCF, a lot of us are going to be dead. And I don’t know what the government is planning to do. We need a voice!” Acevedo was recently bailed out by the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund.

After hearing from speakers both inside and outside the jail, participants marched to the prison’s chain-link fence where they held up signs and banners, anticipating that they would be seen by thousands of incarcerated people.

The demonstration was organized by the Philadelphia Community Bail Fund, the People’s Paper Co-Op, Decarcerate PA, the Dignity Act Now Collective, Youth Art and Self Empowerment Project, and many organizers currently incarcerated at Riverside Correctional Facility.

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