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The Taliban has released three kidnapped engineers from India in exchange for 11 members of the militant group who were held in an Afghan prison, a senior Afghan government source said on Monday. The Indian engineers were among seven, along with an Afghan national, who were kidnapped in May 2018 while working at a power plant in northern Baghlan province of Afghanistan. No group had previously claimed responsibility.

None of the Taliban prisoners who were released were senior commanders, said the government source, who was not authorised to speak publicly. He said the deal was not related to recent Taliban meetings in Islamabad. Two sources close to the Taliban confirmed the exchange took place on Sunday. The Indian Embassy in Kabul declined to comment.

Spokesmen for the Taliban and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul did not respond. One of the seven kidnapped Indian engineers was released in March, the Indian government said at the time. The status of the others was not clear. Some 150 Indian engineers and technical experts were working across Afghanistan on large infrastructure projects at the time of the kidnapping.

Kidnapping of foreigners and Afghans for extortion is common in Afghanistan. Rampant poverty has worsened the situation. The release of the three Indians comes after the Taliban and U.S. special representative for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad met last week for the first time since U.S. President Donald Trump halted talks about withdrawing U.S. troops.

The Afghan government has said they were told the meeting was to discuss the 2016 kidnapping of two university professors, American Kevin King and Australian Timothy Weeks, in Kabul by the Taliban-affiliated Haqqani group.

Copyright Reuters, 2019

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