Taliban hold firm in south as they seek escape from Kunduz
By Sayed Salahuddin and Rosalind Russell
Tuesday November 20, 3:28 PM
KABUL (Reuters) - Taliban fighters in the besieged Afghan enclave of Kunduz were trying to negotiate a surrender on Tuesday as U.S. planes bombed the militia's remaining strongholds and ground forces hunted for militant fugitive Osama bin Laden.
Reports at Pakistan's southwest border with Afghanistan said the Taliban were still firmly in control of Kandahar, home of their supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, despite 45 days of withering U.S.-led aerial attacks on the fundamentalist militia.
But in Kunduz in the north, where more than 10,000 Afghan Taliban fighters and Pakistani, Arab and Chechen comrades linked to bin Laden's al Qaeda network are encircled by Northern Alliance troops, the Taliban were seeking to end the fighting.
Afghan Taliban commanders have said they are willing to surrender to the United Nations but will not give up the city to the Northern Alliance for fear of a massacre.
Northern Alliance warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum told Reuters he was expecting the arrival of two Taliban commanders at his base in the city of Mazar-i-Sharif to discuss surrender. He said Afghans, but not foreigners, would be offered an amnesty.
"We will deal with the foreigners according to international laws and human rights conventions," he said by satellite phone.
The Northern Alliance said it had suspended its ground assault on Kunduz while the talks went on. But it said U.S. bombs were still pounding Taliban positions around the city.
The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press reported U.S. planes bombed targets near Kandahar and Kunduz on Tuesday morning.
The opposition says al Qaeda troops are fighting to the death, knowing they have no alternative, and are executing Afghan comrades who want to surrender.
"The U.N. should intervene," the Taliban's sole ambassador, Pakistan envoy Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, told Reuters on Monday.
"Whether they will surrender to the U.N. or not, I don't have full information."
U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said he was against any deal that would let the defenders of Kunduz escape.
"My hope is that they will either be killed or taken prisoner," he said.
"Any idea that those people... should end up in some sort of a negotiation which would allow them to leave the country and go off and destabilise other countries and engage in terrorist attacks on the United States is something that I would certainly do everything I could to prevent."
TALIBAN HOLD KANDAHAR
Zaeef told Reuters that the Taliban was still firmly in control in its stronghold of Kandahar in the south, in the centre of the ethnic Pashtun territory from where the militia draws most of its support. The Taliban has dismissed reports that it would hand over control of Kandahar to local mujahideen commanders.
Underlining the ethnic divisions that fracture Afghanistan and make building a new government so difficult, anti-Taliban Pashtun leaders in the south are trying to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the militia and have warned the Northern Alliance -- dominated by minority Uzbeks and Tajiks -- to stay away.
U.S.-led special forces are searching near Kandahar for bin Laden, alleged mastermind of the September 11 hijacked airliner attacks in the U.S. that killed some 4,600 people.
But the Saudi-born fugitive remains at large, and the Taliban say he is no longer in territory they control.
"We don't know whether he is in Afghanistan or not," Zaeef said. "But he is definitely not in our area."
Four journalists, including two Reuters reporters, were feared dead after an ambush on Monday by armed men on the road from Pakistan to the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Reuters television cameraman Harry Burton and photographer Azizullah Haidari were reported missing, along with Spanish journalist Julio Fuentes of El Mundo and Italian journalist Maria Grazia Cutuli of Corriere della Sera.
A driver at Kabul bus station said he found the bodies of three men and one woman in the area.
The identities of the bodies were not clear and the driver's account could not be independently corroborated, but Italian Foreign Minister Renato Ruggiero said the bodies appeared to be those of the missing journalists.
The Northern Alliance said 300 troops sent to recover the bodies clashed with unknown fighters on Monday evening, near Sarobi township, some 60 km (35 miles) east of Kabul and site of a hydroelectric plant that supplies power to the capital.
Power to Kabul was cut overnight and into Tuesday morning.
The military advance of the Northern Alliance, which swept into Kabul a week ago just days after starting a major land offensive, has outstripped political progress on agreeing a future broad-based post-Taliban government for Afghanistan.
But the pace of diplomacy has quickened, with U.N. envoy Francesc Vendrell and the U.S. representative to the opposition, James Dobbins, holding intensive talks with opposition leaders.
The result was an apparent climbdown by the Alliance from its demand that talks on the future of Afghanistan be held in Kabul despite objections by its political rivals and the U.N.
Pakistan said the meeting could take place this weekend, and Dobbins said the meeting could be within days, probably in Bonn. But the U.N. said there had still not been a breakthrough on setting a firm time and place for the meeting.
The proposed talks in Europe will be an acid test of the willingness of Afghanistan's tribal leaders and warlords to put factional chaos behind them and build an inclusive government.
Kabul residents well remember the vicious infighting after the Alliance toppled Afghanistan's communist rulers in 1992.
Banditry and lawlessness were rife as warlords carved up the country into their own fiefdoms. The civil war killed 50,000 people in Kabul alone in five years.
Many Pashtuns worry the Northern Alliance will seek to cling to power and deny them a role in government, and say the Alliance broke a promise not to enter Kabul. But the Northern Alliance insists it is committed to building a broad-based government.
|Back to News Archirves of 2001|
Disclaimer: This news site is mostly a compilation of publicly accessible articles on the Web in the form of a link or saved news item. The news articles and commentaries/editorials are protected under international copyright laws. All credit goes to the original respective source(s).