Surrender bin Laden or face attack, Blair tells Taliban
Wednesday October 3, 12:22 AM
BRIGHTON, England, Oct 2 (AFP) - British Prime Minister Tony Blair bluntly warned Afghanistan's Taliban rulers Tuesday that there was no compromise left: hand over Osama bin Laden or face attack.
In an impassioned speech to his governing Labour Party's annual conference, he told the Islamic regime: "Surrender the terrorists or surrender power, that is your choice."
If the Taliban did not respond, "the action we take will be proportionate, targeted," Blair said to loud applause from conference delegates in Brighton, southern England.
"The aim will be to eliminate their military hardware, cut off their finances, disrupt their supplies, target their troops, not civilians. We will put a trap around the regime."
Blair gave no date for the launch of action, but the clear implication was that it would be imminent.
His speech, which described terrorists responsible for devastating attacks in the United States as cruel "beyond our comprehension," appeared designed to prepare the British public for a conflict, although it was not as hard-hitting as his officials had been briefing overnight.
Bin Laden is the chief suspect for the September 11 attacks, in which hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon outside Washington, killing about 5,700 people.
A US-led coalition has called on the Taliban to hand over the Saudi-born alleged terrorist mastermind, who is based in Afghanistan, but so far without success.
The prime minister promised the US-led alliance would do "all we humanly can" to avoid civilian casualties.
"We haven't lashed out," Blair went on. "We are not the ones who waged war on the innocent. We seek the guilty."
He said that whatever the dangers of taking action, the dangers of inaction were far greater.
"Any action taken will be against the terrorist network of bin Laden," the premier said.
Blair also announced that Britain would toughen its extradition and asylum laws as part of a wider campaign against terrorism.
He said the new rules would be designed "to ensure asylum is not a front for terrorist entry" into the country, while allowing "freedom from terror."
Blair's speech came as NATO chiefs in Brussels said Washington had provided sufficient proof that bin Laden's al-Qaeda group was behind the attacks, clearing the way to activate its "all-for-one" Article Five pact.
As for the Taliban, he said it had no "moral inhibition" about slaughtering innocent people.
"There is no compromise possible with such people, no meeting of minds, no point of understanding with such terror.
"There is just a choice: Defeat it or be defeated by it, and defeat it we must."
However, the prime minister also called on the world community to show its capacity for compassion to ensure refugees inside and outside Afghanistan got food, shelter and help during the coming winter months.
In the United States, President George W. Bush also warned the Taliban that they must immediately turn over bin Laden.
"The Taliban must turn over al-Qaeda organization (members) living within Afghanistan and must destroy the terrorist camps. And they must do so; otherwise, there will be a consequence," Bush said.
Meanwhile in Afhganistan, acknowledging the growing military and diplomatic threat to its seven-year rule, the Taliban rejected plans to set up a transitional administration under former Afghan king Mohammad Zahir Shah, and warned of a bloody war against any new regime installed in Kabul.
Britain's Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said military action was necessary for world peace because negotiation was impossible with the terrorists behind the attacks in New York and Washington.
"We need to deploy every weapon -- military, diplomatic, economic, political -- to undermine the roots and the causes of this terrorism, to stifle its support, to target its funding, and to remove its lethal machinery," he said.
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