Blair tells Taliban: Surrender terrorists or surrender power.

Tuesday, October 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BRIGHTON, England (AP)_ British Prime Minister Tony Blair issued a ringing call Tuesday for action against terror, saying Afghanistan's Taliban regime must ``surrender the terrorists or surrender power.''

``This is a battle with only one outcome. Our victory, not theirs,'' Blair told his Labor Party.

In one of the toughest warnings yet to the Taliban from a Western leader, Blair said there could be no compromise with terrorism and warned that if the Taliban did not met meet Western demands they would face removal.

``We stated the ultimatum; they haven't responded,'' Blair said in an emotional speech.

The Taliban rejected Blair's call for the surrender of Osama bin Laden, demanding proof the Saudi exile was involved in the Sept. 11 terror attacks on the United States as the West claims.

Blair said the main target of military action would be Osama bin Laden. But unless the Taliban cooperate, he said, action would also aim to ``eliminate their military hardware, cut off their finances, disrupt their supplies, target their troops, not civilians.''

``I say to the Taliban: Surrender the terrorists or surrender power. It's your choice,'' he said.

Blair's speech came as President Bush's coordinator for counterterrorism briefed NATO officials in Brussels on the United States' evidence of bin Laden's involvement in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

NATO Secretary-General Lord Robertson said the evidence presented by U.S. Ambassador at Large Francis X. Taylor was ``clear and compelling'' and that in response NATO had invoked Article 5 of its charter, which says that an attack on one member is an attack on all 19 members.

The hard-line Islamic Taliban militia, who rule almost all Afghanistan, have refused to surrender bin Laden, who has lived in the country since 1996, leading his al-Qaida organization, which U.S. officials call an international network of terrorists.

The Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan said the ruling militia would not hand over bin Laden with evidence and repeated the Taliban offer for negotiations. ``We don't want to surrender (him) without any proof, any evidence,'' Abdul Salam Zaeef, the envoy, told reporters in Quetta, Pakistan.

He dismissed the threat that the Taliban would be toppled, saying, ``Only Allah changes the regime and only Allah brings the others instead of us.''

Speaking in English, he also rejected NATO's claim that Washington had given the alliance conclusive proof of bin Laden's guilt. ``They haven't given it to us,'' he said.

Blair said there was no doubt ``bin Laden and his people organized this atrocity'' and that they were ``supported, shielded and given succor'' by the Taliban regime.

``The Taliban aid and abet him. He will not desist from further acts of terror. They will not stop helping him,'' he said, accusing the Taliban of having no ``moral inhibition'' on slaughtering innocent people.

``There is no compromise possible with such people, no meeting of minds, no point of understanding with such terror,'' he said. ``There is just a choice: Defeat it or be defeated by it and defeat it we must.''

``Whatever the dangers of the action we take, the dangers of inaction are far, far greater,'' he said.

Blair, who has toured the scene of the destruction in New York, said the families of the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks ``don't want revenge.'' What is needed, he said, is the ``destruction of the machinery of terrorism wherever it is found.'' Military strikes against the Taliban, he said, would be ``proportionate, targeted'' and would strive to avoid civilian casualties.

On Monday, Pakistani President Gen. Pervez Musharraf said he had all but given up on efforts to mediate the standoff between the Taliban and Washington and that it now ``appears that the United States will take action in Afghanistan, and we have conveyed this to the Taliban.''

Asked if the Taliban's days were numbered, he told the British Broadcasting Corp.: ``It appears so.''

Blair's speech came as the United States continues a massive military buildup around Afghanistan. The aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk left its base in Japan on Monday to join other American forces being positioned for possible action.

The Bush administration has given few details of possible military action. ``On the military front we're making progress,'' President Bush said Monday.

On Monday, the former Afghan king and an alliance of opposition groups in northern Afghanistan agreed to convene an emergency council of tribal and military leaders as a first step toward forming a new government in Afghanistan.