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Afghans Negotiate Omar Handover

While Afghan tribal leaders negotiate the handover of Taliban leader Mullah Omar, the US take up fresh air strikes in their pursuit of Taliban fugitives. At least 32 civililans reportedly killed.


Hard to detect - Taliban leader Mullah Omar

Afghanistan’s interim government is reported to have pushed forward negotiations between Afghan tribal leaders over the handover of Mullah Mohammed Omar, believed to be hiding in the area of Bagram, some 160 kilometers northwest of Kandahar.

"We are still waiting to hear from them about our demands," Nasratallah, secretary to Kandahar intelligence chief Haji Gullalai, said. "We have told them clearly that we want the issue to be resolved without bloodshed, and that it is their decision how they want to respond".

Tribal leaders in Afghanistan are said to be unhappy about further American bombing in Afghanistan and want to avoid the smoking out of fugitive Taliban leaders with the help of US aircraft. They say this only leads to unnecessary civilian casualties.

The US-led air campaign recommenced air attacks on Thursday, the first since December 28. After a lull of several days, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced the air strike on a suspected leadership compound saying the focus of the Afghan war was now on pursuing those the Taliban harboured. The Afghan press agency reported that 32 civilians died in air strikes on Friday.

"The Taliban rule in Afghanistan has ended," Rumsfeld said. "It’s a good thing for the people of Afghanistan and for the people of the world that the country is no longer harbouring terrorists. The real task is seeing that they are pursued".

According to Afghanistan intelligence spokesman Nasratullah, the Taliban commander of Baghran, Abdul Ahad, had promised that he and his 1,500 fighters thought to be protecting the area around Omar’s hideout would surrender if US air raids halted.

The offer was made on Thursday following a meeting of tribal leaders in Helmand.

Pentagon has denied any involvement in negotiations for the surrender or handover of Mullah Omar. "We are not authorising pauses or negotiations which would result in the freeing of people who ought not to be free," Rumsfeld said.

On the run

Afghan fighters, backed by US ground forces, staked out a village in southern Afghanistan on Friday in their search for Omar.

The Taliban's spiritual leader Mullah Omar eluded capture when the Taliban's former stronghold of Kandahar fell to opposition forces last month after an intensive bombing campaign by the US. Omar, who sheltered top terrorist Osama Bin Laden despite US demands for his handover, is said to have 1,000 fighters protecting him.

News turned up on Thursday saying he may have already been detained. The Afghan Minister for Reconstruction Amin Farhang told German television he had heard that Omar had been arrested. The report has not yet been confirmed.

"We would know within half an hour if he is captured," Afghan intelligence spokesman Nasratullah told Reuters. Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said there was nothing to support the report.

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