KABUL  - Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgents have demanded in negotiations with the US that prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay be transferred to Qatar, an Afghan government spokesman said Friday.

But President Hamid Karzai’s government objects strongly to the move and wants the prisoners sent directly to Afghanistan, presidential spokesman Aimal Faizi told AFP. The Taliban announced this week that they planned to set up a political office in Qatar, a move seen as a precursor to peace talks with Washington.

At the same time, they demanded the release of prisoners from the US military detention centre at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba - but the statement did not specify where they should be sent. Karzai was told by the US about the demand that they should go to Qatar shortly before the Bonn conference on Afghanistan in December, Faizi said. “Several meetings had taken place between the Americans and the Taliban. It was something discussed between the two sides.

“But that day, when the Americans talked to Karzai, it was the first time that they talked about the transfer of the prisoners to Qatar.” Faizi said his government was in favour of release of Guantanamo prisoners, “but we don’t want them to go directly to Qatar - our government is strongly against it”.

Karzai’s government is concerned about being sidelined in the negotiations towards possible peace between the Taliban and the US, and Faizi stressed that it wanted “an Afghan-led transition”. “The prisoners should be sent to the Afghan government first. We’ve been discussing this with the USA for the last five-six years.

But so far, we have reached no agreement on that issue.” Washington said Wednesday it had taken no decision to release prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay in order to boost negotiations aimed at ending the 10-year war with the Taliban in Afghanistan.