More than 1,000 pro-Taliban fighters surrendered Saturday in the besieged city of Kunduz, including hundreds of foreigners loyal to Osama bin Laden, who is said to be in Jalal Abad, amid preparations for Bonn conference on the future of Afghanistan on the post-Taliban era.
The news of surrender have been attributed by agencies northern alliance commanders, who also said that foreigners remained there, vowing to fight to the end.
Alliance commanders were quoted by the AP as saying that they expected the Taliban command to complete the surrender of the city by Monday under a deal negotiated in recent days.
The agreement provides for safe passage for Afghan Taliban fighters, but the thousands of foreign fighters - Arabs, Chechens, Pakistanis and others - are to be held pending investigation into their suspected links with bin Laden's Al Qaeda network.
US officials believe they may include some of bin Laden's key lieutenants.
Mohammed Mohaqik, the commander of Shiite Muslim forces in the alliance, said late Saturday that about 700 foreigners had been taken prisoner and brought to the alliance-held northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif.
On the eastern front, hundreds of Taliban soldiers - caked in choking tan dust - poured out of the city to the east atop tanks, pickup trucks and taxis.
They were greeted by their northern alliance enemies with handshakes and shouts of “Welcome!” according to the AP.
The commanders said the first group of foreign fighters to surrender broke out of the siege lines around Kunduz and reached the village of Qalai Qul Mohammed, where they handed over their weapons.
“We gave up to the northern alliance. They are our brothers and sisters,'' said Shah Mahmoud.
Some of the Taliban kept their weapons and joined the northern alliance ranks, preparing to attack the foreigners who had lived with them inside the Taliban's last northern stronghold. Those foreigners seemed intent on fighting to the end, said the report.
“The foreigners will never surrender, I think,'' Mahmoud said.
Many of the foreigners feared that the alliance fighters, whose hatred of the foreigner fighters is intense, would slaughter them rather than send them to trial, leaving them with only one option - fight.
The United States has strongly opposed any surrender deal that allows foreign fighters to go free. An American official in Washington said some of the fighters in Kunduz may be key lieutenants of bin Laden, the chief suspect in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that sparked the US-led attacks on the Taliban rulers of Afghanistan.
In recent days, Khan claimed Pakistani fighters were fleeing by plane out of the city's half-destroyed airport, although the US military said there was nothing to indicate any such evacuation.
“We control the skies over Afghanistan and we would not let anyone fly out and take people who we have repeatedly said wouldn't be allowed to leave,'' Marine Corps Lt. Col. David Lapan said in Washington, quoted by the agency.
Despite the Pakistan government's support for the US-led war against terrorism, its president, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, has repeatedly appealed for measures to save Pakistani fighters who joined the Taliban side, fearing they face slaughter if the northern alliance seized the city.
A militant Islamic group in Pakistan, which claims to have sent thousands of Pakistanis to fight alongside the Taliban, threatened to target Afghan refugees in Pakistan if its supporters are executed in Kunduz.
Farther south in Afghanistan near the capital Kabul, fighting continued in the village of Maidan Shahr, where alliance fighters have been attacking Taliban holdouts in the rocky, barren hills.
BIN LADEN CLAIMED TO BE IN JALAL ABAD
Meanwhile, Hazrat Ali, an anti-Taliban commander in Jalalabad, told the AP Saturday that he believes bin Laden is nearby, moving by night on horseback and sleeping in caves during the day. There was no way to confirm Ali's claims, which he said came from trusted informants.
Musharraf said Saturday he does not believe bin Laden had slipped into Pakistan. He said Pakistan had sought the cooperation of tribal leaders along the 1,344-mile frontier to ensure that bin Laden does not sneak across.
Meanwhile, a US official reported Friday that the northern alliance might be making its move toward the Taliban's last remaining area of control, in the south.
Advance elements of an alliance force have entered Helmand province, just to the west of the Taliban base of Kandahar, the official said.
The Afghan Islamic Press, citing a Taliban spokesman, also reported fighting in Helmand, saying the Taliban captured 25 opposition fighters who attacked them near the border between Helmand and Kandahar provinces.
The private, Pakistan-based news agency also reported fighting near Bala Zare, 60 miles east of Kandahar. It cited a Taliban spokesman as saying fighters under a former governor, Gul Agha, attacked Taliban positions with air support from US warplanes, but were driven back and suffered heavy casualties.
The reports could not be confirmed.
UN DELAYS AFGHAN CONFERENCE TO TUESDAY
At the United Nations officials announced a one-day delay in a conference in Germany aimed at paving the way for a new Afghan government following the Taliban's collapse. The meeting will now open Tuesday because of delays in getting participants to the venue in Bonn, the UN said.
UN special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, met with French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine late Friday, just days before the UN sponsored inter-Afghan conference.
"Mr Vedrine assured him of France's full support," the French minister's spokesman, Francois Rivasseau, said in a statement, cited by AFP.
Leaders of Afghanistan's rival ethnic factions are to meet in Bonn on Tuesday under the aegis of the United Nations, for an inter-Afghan conference that seeks to pave the way for a broadly acceptable post-Taliban government.
The meeting will be held at Petersburg Hotel in Bonn, said reports after it was moved from Berlin days ago – Albawaba.com
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