Afghan Taliban threaten to shut main U.N. office
KABUL, May 10 (Reuters) - Afghanistan's ruling Taliban on Thursday threatened to close the United Nations' main political mission in the capital Kabul if they are not allowed to keep a delegate in New York.
"If they close our representative's office and expel him, we will shut the UNSMA (U.N. Special Mission to Afghanistan) office in Kabul and dismiss its personnel," Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Muttawakil said.
The threat came two days after the United Nations said it intended to close its political offices in four Afghan cities -- Herat, Jalalabad, Kandahar and Mazar-i-Sharif -- as demanded by the Taliban but leave open its bureau in the capital Kabul.
The closure of the four U.N. offices is to take place by May 20 in retaliation for the shutdown of the Taliban's New York office by the United States in line with U.N. sanctions against the radical Islamic movement.
Muttawakil said the U.N. would be allowed to continue its normal activities in Afghanistan if it convinced the United States to reverse its decision to close the Taliban's New York office headed by Taliban envoy Abdul Hakim Mujahid.
He said Mujahid's operations were limited to New York and he was only allowed to work in his residence or from a guest house.
The U.N. Security Council ordered a new set of sanctions against the Taliban for the movement's refusal to hand over Saudi-born terrorism-suspect Osama bin Laden for a U.S. trial.
The sanctions, which followed anti-Taliban financial and aviation sanctions ordered last year, include a closure of Taliban offices abroad, restricting its officials' foreign trips, and an arms embargo, which does not apply to the Taliban's opponents.
Bin Laden is wanted by the United States to face charges of masterminding a 1998 bombing of two U.S. embassies in East Africa that killed more than 200 people.
The dissident denies the charges and the Taliban, which has sheltered him as a "guest," has refused to expel him.
HOPES FOR NORMALISATION
Muttawakil expressed hope for a normalisation of the radical Islamic movement's uneasy relations with neighbouring Iran, which he said would soon send a delegation to Afghanistan.
He said an Iranian team would soon travel to the western Afghan city of Herat where an Iranian exile and nine local people were killed in a bomb blast.
Iran, which does not recognise the Taliban government, withdrew its consulate staff from Herat after the May 4 attack.
"This is not a high-ranking delegation...(but) we hope with the arrival of this delegation, our relations (will) become normal," he said
Muttawakil said the Taliban government, which controls about 95 percent of Afghanistan, also wanted to normalise relations with its other neighbours.
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