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Afghanistan Releases Pakistani Prisoners Accused of Supporting Taleban - 2002-09-04

Authorities in Afghanistan have released 55 Pakistani prisoners accused of fighting alongside the ousted Taleban regime. They are among an estimated one thousand Pakistani citizens held in Afghan jails.

A special military plane brought the prisoners to Pakistan after they were released from a jail in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

The prisoners were not allowed to talk to reporters when they arrived at an army base in the northwestern city of Peshawar. They were taken to the city's central jail and authorities say they will interrogate the detainees before they are released.

Afghan officials say the prisoners were captured while they were helping the Taleban fight opposition forces. The Afghan government says it is releasing those Pakistanis who are not linked to al-Qaida-led terrorist groups, and are not wanted by any other country.

A government spokesman in Kabul told reporters another 55 Pakistani prisoners will be released Thursday.

Thousands of young Pakistani religious students crossed the Afghan border late last year to support the Taleban and al-Qaida forces as they came under a U.S.-led attack. Most of the Pakistani citizens were either killed or arrested after the Taleban regime collapsed.

At least 58 Pakistanis ended-up in the U.S. prison in Guantanamo Bay, where some 600 suspected Taleban and al-Qaida members are detained. Officials in Pakistan say they hope the United States will free them because they are not linked to al-Qaida.

Also late Wednesday, hundreds of Pakistani soldiers launched an operation to capture six suspected al-Qaida fighters thought to be hiding in a remote region bordering Afghanistan.

Witnesses say local tribesmen are refusing to surrender the wanted men. No official account of the operation is immediately available. A large number of al-Qaida and Taleban members are thought to have taken refuge in Pakistan's remote border areas.