Afghan Rulers Dismiss Bin Laden Handover Report
Afghanistan's Taliban militia Tuesday dismissed a report in a British newspaper that it was ready to hand over indicted terrorist Osama bin Laden in exchange for international recognition.
Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakel told the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press that Monday's report in The Times was a "total lie".
"I have never said this to any reporter. There is no change in the Taliban's policy on Osama," he told the private news agency.
"He can leave Afghanistan on his own if he wants but we will not expel him."
The Times quoted the foreign minister as saying the ruling Islamic militia was ready to hand over bin Laden to a third country if it was given recognition as the country's legitimate government.
The Taliban have consistently rejected making any such deals over bin Laden, a veteran of the 1979-89 Afghan war against the Soviets and an honoured "guest" of the militia.
Bin Laden, a Saudi millionaire and self-declared enemy of America, is wanted in the United States for allegedly masterminding the twin bombings of US embassies in east Africa in 1998 which killed 224 people.
"These reports are not true. Sometimes the press misreport or misinterpret the events," a foreign ministry official told AFP.
"Our policy on him has not changed."
Taliban Ambassador to Pakistan Abdul Salam Zaeef said: "This is rumour. There is no truth in this report."
He said the Taliban had written a letter to the new Bush administration in Washington urging it to adopt a "new policy" on bin Laden, but this in no way indicated a softening in the militia's position.
"We want to solve all problems through talks and dialogue," he said, adding that the matter must be resolved "in accordance with our dignity, culture and Islamic laws and traditions".
The Islamist Taliban regime is not recognized by the international community and has been hit with UN sanctions after it refused to hand over bin Laden and close alleged terrorist training camps.
It insists there is no solid evidence against bin Laden, but has nevertheless offered to try him in an Islamic court in Afghanistan.
The trial of four of his alleged associates began in earnest in New York this week.
Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia are the only countries which recognise the Taliban's ultra-orthodox brand of Islamic rule -- KABUL (AFP)
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)