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The PM writes to President Trump - plea for digger-killer Hekmatullah to stay in prison

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Scott Morrison appealed directly to Donald Trump for his support in keeping the murderer of three Australian soldiers in Afghanistan behind bars.

As Afghanistan’s Ghani government prepares to release 400 insurgents, including the rogue Afghan National Army sergeant Hekmatullah, the Prime Minister said Australian government had persistently lobbied for the killer to be excluded from a US-brokered prisoner swap with the Taliban.

“It is a matter that I have written to the President about. It is a matter of keen interest to Australia and we have reminded them of that,” Mr Morrison said.

“Hekmatullah was responsible for murdering three Australians, and our position is that he should never be released.”

Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani agreed overnight to release a final 400 Taliban prisoners after an Afghan grand assembly, known as the Loya Jirga, approved the move.

Hekmatullah is among the remaining prisoners sought for release by the Taliban under its peace deal with the United States.

In a joint statement, the families of the three men said: “The news passed to us from senior ­Defence officers on Friday evening has come as a crushing blow. There can never be complete closure for us now.”

Mr Morrison said Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Defence Minister Linda Reynolds conveyed Australia’s concern about Hekmatullah’s release to their US counterparts Mike Pompeo and Mark Esper at the recent AUSMIN meeting.

“We do not believe that his relief adds to peace in this region, and that is the position that we will continue to maintain and we will maintain it strongly,” the Prime Minister said.

“I can’t promise you the outcome we all want here. But it is certainly the outcome that we will continue to press for as hard as we can.”

The three-day Loya Jirga, a traditional Afghan meeting of tribal elders, announced on Sunday that it approved the release of the remaining prisoners sought by the Taliban under its peace deal with the US.

“In order to remove the hurdles for the start of peace talks, stopping bloodshed, and for the good of the public, the jirga approves the release of 400 prisoners as demanded by the Taliban,” Jirga member Atefa Tayeb announced.

Following the announcement, President Ghani: “Today, I will sign the release order of these 400 prisoners.”