Eighty-six prisoners were handed over to their families on Sunday after being freed from Bagram air field, the main US base north of Kabul, and from another base in the southern province of Kandahar, a presidential spokesman said.

   

A US military official said 85 prisoners had been freed.

   

US forces in Afghanistan have been stepping up releases of prisoners who are not seen as security threats, in line with efforts to encourage reconciliation in the country.

   

"The government is in discussion with the US authorities to work for the release of other prisoners who are not posing danger, both from here and from Guantanamo bay," Afghan presidential spokesman Jawed Ludin said, referring to the US base in Cuba.

 

US pledge

   

US forces captured hundreds after toppling Afghanistan's Taliban government in late 2001 on suspicion of being fighters.

   

"The government is in discussion with the US authorities to work for the release of other prisoners who are not posing danger, both from here and from Guantanamo bay"

Jawed Ludin,
Afghan presidential spokesman

Most of those freed on Sunday come from the southern or southeastern regions, where the 18,300-strong US-led force is focussing its operations against Taliban-led fighters.

   

Afghan Chief Justice Fazl Hadi Shinwari said after 81 others were freed in January that US authorities had pledged to free all their remaining Afghan prisoners.

   

The government is seeking to coax rank-and-file Taliban to give up their fight with an amnesty offer, which does not include 150 of the movement's senior leaders, accused of violence or of having links with al-Qaida.

   

The US also holds about 540 prisoners at Guantanamo, captured in what President George Bush calls the global war on terrorism. Most were picked up in Afghanistan.

   

Human-rights groups have criticised Guantanamo as a "legal black hole"  and some former prisoners have said they were tortured there. The US military says its treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo is humane and justified.