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Monday, 17 September, 2001, 16:28 GMT 17:28 UK
Taleban to decide Bin Laden fate
Afghan refugees face closed borders
The leader of Afghanistan's ruling Taleban has announced that a decision on whether Osama Bin Laden can remain in the country will be taken at a meeting on Tuesday, official Taleban radio reported.

Mullah Mohammed Omar said the decision on Bin Laden, identified by the US as the chief suspect in last Tuesday's suicide attacks, would be made by Islamic leaders from all over the country.

Time is of the essence. There is no ultimatum, but time is definitely running out

Pakistan Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar
High-ranking officials from Pakistan have been holding talks with Mullah Omar in the southern city of Kandahar in an effort to persuade him to hand over the Saudi-born millionaire.

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar has warned that time is running out and has called on the Taleban to make a sober and dispassionate decision.

Pakistan has already pledged to provide the US with support and, although the government will not spell out exactly what this means, Mr Sattar said he could not rule out the idea of basing foreign troops in Pakistan if the delegation failed.

Close ties

Pakistan has close ties with the Taleban, but the BBC Islamabad correspondent, Susannah Price, says this is testing its influence to the limit.

Click here to see map of Afghanistan

The US is pointing the finger at me, but I categorically state that I have not done this

Osama Bin Laden

The Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) quoted Taleban spokesman Abdul Hai Mutamaen as saying that, while the talks so far had been largely positive, the key issue of handing over Bin Laden had not been resolved.

"There was no clear discussion on this particular topic," he reportedly said.

Missiles moved

The Pakistan delegation is understood to have warned that Bin Laden will have to be handed over within three days if US military strikes are to be averted.

"Time is of the essence. There is no ultimatum, but time is definitely running out," Mr Sattar said.

The Taleban have until now refused all demands to hand over Bin Laden, first demanding proof of his involvement in the terror attacks on the US.

As the consultations went ahead, Reuters news agency quoted a Pakistani army captain as saying the Taleban had moved a large number of weapons, including missiles, to positions near the Pakistani border.

The Afghan rulers have warned that they might attack any country that offers assistance to the United States.

Flights ban

The Pakistani army captain also said that Islamabad had reinforced its troops along the frontier with Afghanistan.

Osama Bin Laden
Bin Laden - the Taleban has refused to hand him over before

UN officials meanwhile said that tens of thousands of Afghans, fearing US strikes, were streaming out of cities - including up to half the population of Kandahar - and heading towards the borders with Pakistan and Iran.

In another development, the Taleban shut down Afghanistan's airspace on Monday.

An estimated 110 flights that cross Afghanistan every day will now have to make an expensive diversion.

Afghanistan had already been moving in this direction, warning two weeks ago that it might shut down the airspace if UN sanctions were not lifted.

Bin Laden denial

Bin Laden on Sunday issued his first personal denial of involvement in the attacks.

"The US is pointing the finger at me but I categorically state that I have not done this," he said in a statement faxed to the Pakistan-based Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) news agency.

The opposition alliance to the Taleban, which has been pushed back into the north of Afghanistan, has said it could provide invaluable help in hunting down Bin Laden.

The ousted Afghan president Burhanuddin Rabbani told the BBC his fighters were well acquainted with the hostile terrain, which has long been seen as a real obstacle to any foreign army trying to move in the country.

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The BBC's Adam Mynott
"An already volatile situation is hourly turning more dangerous"
Pakistan High Comm. to London Abdul Kader Jaffer
"We do not want terrorism in Pakistan"
Shamshad Ahman, Pakistani UN Ambassador
"Pakistan will comply with the decision of the UN Security Council"
See also:

17 Sep 01 | South Asia
UN prepares for major Afghan crisis
17 Sep 01 | Sci/Tech
Spy satellites search for Bin Laden
14 Sep 01 | South Asia
Aid agencies warn of Afghan crisis
12 Sep 01 | South Asia
Taleban tense as US seeks targets
14 Sep 01 | Americas
Bin Laden's command structure
16 Sep 01 | Middle East
Bin Laden divides Arab opinion
16 Sep 01 | Middle East
Iran weighs up its options
15 Sep 01 | South Asia
Pakistan 'will comply' on terror
11 Sep 01 | South Asia
Who is Osama Bin Laden?
17 Sep 01 | Americas
More arrests in US terror probe
16 Sep 01 | South Asia
In pictures: Afghans fear US backlash
17 Sep 01 | South Asia
On edge: Afghanistan's neighbours
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