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Up to 600 Afghan interpreters who served with British forces in Afghanistan will be offered the chance of a new life in Britain after a government U-turn, it was revealed on Wednesday.
Prime Minister David Cameron had initially decided to discourage the interpreters from settling in Britain for fear of the message it would send out about the stability of Afghanistan as foreign forces pull out.
Many of the Afghans say their lives are in danger from the Taliban due to their work with British forces in the restive southern Helmand Province.
British forces are due to withdraw at the end of 2014 along with other troops in the NATO-led international coalition.
Although details of the new plan have yet to be released, interpreters who served on the frontline for at least one year will be allowed to move to Britain with close family members on a five-year visa.
They will reportedly be able to choose between cash payments if they stay in Afghanistan or settle in a country nearby, and the right to move to Britain.
Those who wish to remain in Afghanistan will be paid their salary for five years if they train or study, or be paid for 18 months if they do not.
"These proposals give them a choice: the opportunity to go on working in Afghanistan, learning new skills and to go on rebuilding their country or to come and make a new start in Britain," a source in Cameron's Downing Street office said.
The decision came after three interpreters launched a legal challenge to press for the same treatment afforded to interpreters who worked with British forces during the Iraq war.
One of the Afghan interpreters, who wished to be identified only as Mohammad, said London had made "the right decision".
"Saving those people who have helped the British government is giving a message to the Taliban that the Afghan interpreters will not be left behind for them to be persecuted and hunted down by the terrorists," he told AFP.
Mohammad was forced to leave his wife and three children behind in Afghanistan after receiving death threats from the Taliban for his five years' work with British troops.
"I hope that with this decision now, I would be able to reunite with my family here in the UK and the other interpreters would be able to come here in the UK to live in peace with their family," he said.
His lawyer Rosa Curling, who lodged the interpreters' legal challenge at the High Court in London earlier this month, said she was "delighted" at the government's offer.
"Whilst we await the full details of the scheme, we are delighted that the bravery of the Afghan interpreters now seems to have been recognised."
She said, however, she was concerned that some interpreters may not be eligible for the scheme if it was limited to those who had served on the frontline and not to others, such as Kabul-based spokesmen and those working for the intelligence services.
"Both groups remain at risk from threats from the Taliban and to refuse them access to the same resettlement options would be unacceptable," Curling said.
The Downing Street source said Cameron "has been very clear that we should not turn our backs on those who have trod the same path as our soldiers in Helmand, consistently putting their lives at risk to help our troops achieve their mission".
"We should recognise the service given by those who have regularly put themselves in real danger while working for us," the source said.
It is believed at least 20 interpreters serving with British troops have been killed since 2001, while dozens have been wounded and a handful have been murdered while on leave.
Cameron had previously said that Afghan interpreters should only be allowed to stay in Britain "in extremis".
"When we think of all that we have spent and all the cost in money and human lives we have put into Afghanistan, we should do everything we can to encourage talented Afghans to stay in their country and contribute to it," he added.