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Pakistani delegation meets Taliban's leader to press for surrender of bin Laden

Updated:
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Pakistani religious and government figures met the leader of Afghanistan's ruling Taliban on Friday but failed to persuade him to surrender Osama bin Laden, a member of the delegation said.

Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar told the delegation that ``America should give up its stubbornness, and only then can Afghanistan negotiate,'' said Mufti Mohammed Jamil, leader of Pakistan's Jamiat Ulema e-Islam party, who took part in the talks.

Even while describing the talks as ``fruitful,'' the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan, who accompanied the Pakistani delegation, said the subject of bin Laden was out of bounds. Pakistan had no immediate comment on the outcome of the daylong talks.

Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban envoy, insisted the purpose of the talks were ``not to discuss Osama bin Laden, but to discuss the crisis.'' He said the two sides ``talked about the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan.'' There would be more meetings, he told The Associated Press by telephone from Karachi on the way back from the talks at the Taliban headquarters in Kandahar.

President Bush has demanded the Taliban hand over bin Laden _ the top suspect in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States _ and his lieutenants or share thier fate, raising expectations of an American-led military action against Afghanistan. Bush has said the U.S. demands are not negotiable.

A top Bush administration official said Friday that U.S. and British forces have been conducting scouting missions in Afghanistan, apparently as a prelude to action.

The Pakistani delegation's visit to Afghanistan came a day after the Taliban delivered a message to bin Laden asking him to leave the country voluntarily. It was the first acknowledgment from the Taliban that they knew where bin Laden was, or how to communicate with him.

Gen. Rashid Qureshi, spokesman of Pakistan's military government, said Friday's delegation was the latest contact ``with the Afghan government to persuade them of the need to address the concerns of the United States and the world community.''

``In view of the gravity of the situation, the Afghan leadership should be responsive to what the world is expecting of them,'' Riaz Mohammed Khan, a spokesman for Pakistan's Foreign Office, said Friday.

A second delegation consisting of clerics from Pakistan's main Islamic parties said it hoped to travel to Afghanistan in coming days.

Bush has also demanded the Taliban free aid workers detained since August. There was no indication that Friday's talks dealt with the fate of eight foreign aid workers, charged with preaching Christianity in Afghanistan. The trial of the eight _ two Americans, two Australians, and four Germans _ was to resume Saturday in Kabul.

Elsewhere, the first of a series of planeloads of food aid earmarked for Afghan refugees arrived in the border city of Peshawar. Anti-U.S. demonstrations broke out in Peshawar and Kabul, the Afghan capital, after Friday Muslim prayers.

Pakistan's decision to support the United States _ including possible use of its airspace and territory as staging ground for any military strikes _ has drawn fury from hard-line Islamic groups inside the country.

In Islamabad, the country's biggest Sunni Muslim party, Sipah-e-Sahaba, staged a raucous protest near a central mosque after Friday's prayers, the most important of the Muslim week. Protesters carried placards reading ``Osama is our hero'' and ``Anyone who supports America is a traitor.'' They burned U.S. and U.N. flags and an effigy of Bush.

A delegation of students from another Islamic party handed over a letter to the main United Nations office in Islamabad, demanding that there be no U.S. strike on Afghanistan.

In Peshawar near the Afghan border, several thousand protesters chanted ``Death to America!'' and vowed to make Afghanistan a ``graveyard'' for American forces, while hundreds of riot police watched.

In Kabul, worshippers at the main mosque called on God to punish the ``arrogance'' of the United States. The mullah told them in his sermon that Afghans ``will never bow'' before the United States.

Amid fears of war, hundreds of thousands of refugees have been on the move inside Afghanistan, and the United Nations has warned of a burgeoning humanitarian crisis, with food stocks dwindling and the start of the harsh Afghan winter is only six weeks away.

The first of several planeloads of food being flown to Afghanistan's neighbors by the World Food Program arrived Friday in the Pakistani border city of Peshawar, the WFP said.

Kabul Radio denied reports of food shortages in the capital and major provinces. A broadcast monitored Thursday in Islamabad quoted senior municipal officials as saying there was enough food in markets and assuring residents ``we have sufficient stocks available in Kabul and other provinces.''
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