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US Refuses to Negotiate with the Taliban

The US continues bombing the city of Kunduz but refuses to negotiate with the besieged militia. In Washington President Bush woos Muslims with a traditional Ramadan dinner.

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The US pounds the Kunduz province

US B-52 bombers continued with their blistering air strikes on the Taliban’s remaining strongholds – the southern city of Kandahar and the city of Kunduz in the north.

The Taliban are reported to be firmly in control of Kandahar, home to their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar as a massive manhunt still continues on the ground for Osama Bin Laden. The US has rejected any negotiated surrender for his al Qaeda fighters or his Taliban protectors that would let them avoid capture or death.

More than 1,000 Afghan, Pakistani, Arab and Chechen Taliban fighters holed up in the northern city of Kunduz are surrounded by Northern Alliance troops. The Taliban fighters are reported to 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 said 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.

"The U.N. should intervene," the Taliban's sole ambassador, Pakistan envoy Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, said on Monday.

But 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 destabilize other countries and engage in terrorist attacks on the United States is something that I would certainly do everything I could to prevent."

Closing in on Bin Laden

On Monday in Washington, U.S. President George W. Bush said that the "noose was beginning to narrow" around Saudi-born militant bin Laden, whom he accuses of masterminding the September 11 attacks on the United States that killed around 4,500 people.

"We're hunting him down. He runs and he hides, but as we've seen repeatedly the noose is beginning to narrow, the net is getting tighter," President George W. Bush said.

"The more territory we gain, the more success there is on the ground, the more people we've got looking to help us in our mission,".

Bush courts Muslims

To sustain his diplomatic offensive and underline that the war in Afghanistan was not a war against Muslims, Bush invited ambassadors from more than 50 Muslim nations to the White House for prayers and a traditional Ramadan dinner - an iftar.

He told them that the U.S.-led bombing must continue because "evil has no holy days".

"We share a commitment to family; to protect and love our children. We share a belief in God's justice and man's moral responsibility. And we share the same hope for a future of peace," Bush told ambassadors from Muslim nations.

Tributes to slain journalists

Reuters Editor-in-Chief Geert Linnebank paid tribute on Tuesday to Harry Burton and Azizullah Haidari, both 33 years old - two Reuters journalists who were killed in an ambush in Afghanistan.

He also paid condolences to the families of Spanish journalist Julio Fuentes of El Mundo and Italian journalist Maria Grazia Cutuli of Corriere della Sera, who were also shot in the ambush.

He said the deaths appeared to be "yet more cold-blooded executions of journalists going about their work".

Harry and Aziz came from different backgrounds. Aziz was an Afghan refugee who joined Reuters in Pakistan in 1992 where he went on to become a news photographer. Harry Burton was an Australian cameraman based in Jakarta who made a name for himself covering the civil war in East Timor.