* Qatar, Germany, Indonesia, Norway and Uzbekistan issue joint statement on announcement by Afghan government and Taliban of a ceasefire during Eid al-Fitr

Qatar, Germany, Indonesia, Norway and Uzbekistan have welcomed the announcement of a ceasefire by the Afghan government and the Taliban to mark the Eid al-Fitr festival.

In a joint statement, the five countries said the ceasefire was a positive step forward that gives cause for hope.

"The Afghan people deserves an end to violence as well as dignified peace and stability," the statement said.

The five countries encouraged both sides to take further steps in order to enter into negotiations aimed at securing a durable peace settlement that ends the conflict in Afghanistan.

Recalling the appeal of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres for a global ceasefire amid the Covid-19 pandemic, the five countries called for a permanent and comprehensive reduction in violence so as to bring lasting relief to the Afghan population.

"In this connection, we also encourage the taking of necessary measures to protect vulnerable groups and individuals, including prisoners, from the pandemic," the statement said.

"As like-minded countries resolved to co-operate in our support for an inclusive peace process in Afghanistan, we stand ready to assist the process in any way the parties may wish."

The five countries recognised and commended the long-standing efforts of all parties, including Qatar and the United States, in supporting the peace process in Afghanistan.

*AFP adds: Meanwhile, Afghan authorities released 100 Taliban prisoners on Monday as part of the government's response to the ceasefire.

President Ashraf Ghani said his administration was also ready to hold peace talks with the Taliban.

"The government of Afghanistan has today released 100 Taliban prisoners from Bagram prison," National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal said.

He said the prisoner release was to "help the peace process" and will continue until 2,000 prisoners are freed.

Faisal said the authorities plan to release prisoners in batches of 100 daily.

"We hope this will eventually lead to a lasting peace that the people of Afghanistan so much desire and deserve," he said.

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