Taliban commanders part of swap for Western hostages arrive in Qatar -sources

By Jibran Ahmad

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, Nov 19 (Reuters) - Three Taliban commanders who are part of a prisoner swap for two Western hostages held by the militant group have landed in Qatar, three Taliban sources familiar with the deal said on Tuesday.

The Afghan government's decision to carry out the swap is seen as key to securing direct talks with the Islamist militants, who have, until now, refused to engage with what they call an illegitimate "puppet" regime in Kabul.

The sources, including one in Qatar, home to the political leadership of the Taliban, said their hostages, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, both university professors, would be released later on Tuesday.

"Our three prisoners had been freed on Monday night," said one of the sources, a senior Taliban leader in Afghanistan, who declined to be identified because he was not authorised to speak publicly about the deal.

"Soon after their release, they were flown to Doha and handed over to the political office in Qatar."

Representatives of the Afghan government and the United States embassy in Kabul were not immediately available for comment.

On Nov. 12, President Ashraf Ghani said Afghanistan would free Anas Haqqani, a senior figure in the eponymous Haqqani network responsible for some of the worst violence in recent years, and two Taliban commanders. L4N27S1DV

But the swap was abruptly postponed, with the Taliban shifting their hostages to a new location after the commanders failed to land in Qatar. L4N27V37L

(Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

((Alasdair.Pal@thomsonreuters.com; +91 114 954 8060; Reuters Messaging: alasdair.pal.reuters.com@reuters.net))

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