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Taliban say bin Laden advised to leave Afghanistan voluntarily

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Officials of the ruling Taliban have advised Osama bin Laden of the Afghan clerics' decision that he should leave Afghanistan voluntarily, the Taliban ambassador in Pakistan said Thursday.

The Taliban had initially asserted they could not find bin Laden to inform him of the recommendation, made Sept. 20 by a council of clerics, or the Ulema. U.S. officials had dismissed the claims he was missing.

Ambassador Abdul Salam Zaeef said the clerics' decision had been ``endorsed'' by the Taliban's supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar.

Bin Laden is the top suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist bombings in the United States, and Bush has demanded that the Taliban hand over him and his lieutenants, among other demands, or face retaliation.

``Osama has now received the Ulema council's recommendations and their endorsement'' he said. ``We have not lost Osama, but he is out of sight of the people.''

Zaeef did not say how the message was conveyed nor where bin Laden was hiding. He also did not indicate bin Laden's reaction to the message.

The clerics did not set a deadline for bin Laden to leave when they made the recommendation during a meeting in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

``The Ulema wants the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to encourage Osama to leave Afghanistan in the proper time and of his own free will,'' ... Taliban-run Bakhtar news agency reporting on the council decision.

It was the first time since the attacks in the United States that the Taliban have indicated that they know where bin Laden is located or how to communicate with him.
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