Afghan activist says Taliban freed 27 members of his group

TAMEEM AKHGAR
FILE - In this Aug. 29, 2019 filephoto, members of the peace movement chat after an interview in Kabul, Afghanistan. On Tuesday, Dec. 24, 2019, the Taliban ambushed a peace convoy in Farah province in western Afghanistan and abducted 26 activists, members of a peace movement. A police spokesman said the insurgents forced the six-vehicle convoy to a halt, then got into the cars and drove to an unknown location. The spokesman said Wednesday that a police operation is underway to locate and free the activists, whose convoy was going village-to-village to rally for peace. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul, File)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Taliban released 27 peace activists Thursday, a day after they were abducted in an ambush on their convoy in western Afghanistan, a leader of the activist organization said.

Phone lines were down in the region, making communication difficult and the reason for the activists' abduction was still unclear, said Bismillah Watandost of the People's Peace Movement of Afghanistan.

The insurgents ambushed the group in the district of Bala Buluk in Farah province Tuesday. Insurgents forced the six-vehicle convoy to a halt, then got into the cars and drove them and the activists to an unknown location.

A provincial police operation was launched to locate and free the activists, whose convoy was going village to village to rally for peace in the war-torn country. Also, tribal elders in the area began an effort to secure the safe release of the activists. However, efforts were hampered by a lack of communications infrastructure in the area and it wasn't clear who facilitated their release.

Watandost said Taliban elders in Doha had promised the release of the group's kidnapped members.

The Taliban, who have been active in Farah, have not claimed responsibility for the abductions.

The Taliban today hold sway or control about half of Afghanistan and are at their strongest since the 2001 U.S. invasion. They continue to stage near-daily attacks targeting Afghan and U.S. forces, as well as government officials — even as they hold peace talks with a U.S. envoy tasked with negotiating an end to the 18-year conflict, America's longest war.

The latest rallies by activists from the People's Peace Movement of Afghanistan started Friday, first in southern Helmand province, a Taliban heartland. Watandost said the rally will continue to other provinces.

At a similar series of peace rallies in October, the Taliban abducted six activists from the movement in eastern Logar province but released them the same day.