Afghan Taleban figures freed in prisoner swop want to work for peace: Relatives

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - One of the five senior Taleban figures released from Guantanamo Bay in exchange for a United States soldier wants to rejoin the Afghan militant group but to work for peace, his relative told AFP on Tuesday.

Mr Norullah Noori is accused of taking part in the 1998 massacre of thousands of Shi'ites when he was governor of the northern province of Balkh.

He and the four others were released on Saturday and flown to the Gulf state of Qatar in exchange for US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

"After he was released we talked to him and he is very willing to return to Afghanistan," Mr Noori's cousin Abdullah told AFP in a telephone interview.

"He says he wants to join the Taleban again and bring changes to Taleban. He says Afghanistan needs peace now and he will work for peace with the Taleban," Mr Abdullah said, denying Mr Noori's involvement in the 1998 massacre.

Mr Khairullah Khairkhwa, also freed Saturday, has expressed a similar desire to push for talks to end Afghanistan's long conflict "but not under the (government's) so-called peace council programmes", a close relative told AFP via a video call from Pakistan.

The relative did not wish to be identified.

The Taleban have publicly refused to talk peace with the Afghan government, accusing President Hamid Karzai of being an American puppet.

But some moderate elements are believed to have broken ranks and engaged in dialogue, raising hopes for peace as Washington prepares to pull out the bulk of its troops from the country by the end of the year.

The allegations around Mr Noori centre on an August 1998 massacre of up to 8,000 Shi'ites at the hands of the Taleban, who were avenging the killing of 2,000 of their own men the year before.

Mr Noori's Guantanamo Bay detention file notes he is "wanted by the United Nations for possible war crimes including the murder of thousands of Shi'ites".

However, the Afghanistan Analysts Network, a think-tank, said no clear evidence has been presented to back up the allegation.

Sgt Bergdahl - the only US soldier held by the Taleban after being captured in Afghanistan - was freed under the dramatic deal brokered by Qatar.

Mohammad Fazl, Mohammad Nabi and Abdul Haq Wasiq were the other Taleban members to be freed.

All five were influential officials in the Taleban regime driven from power by the US-led invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks.

Their release has evoked sharp criticism from some US politicians, who fear they could return to the battlefield and pose a threat to Americans abroad.

It has also provoked revulsion among Afghans in those parts of the country traditionally opposed to the Islamists.