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Thursday, August 20, 1998 Published at 21:05 GMT 22:05 UK

World: South Asia

Taleban vows to stand by bin Laden

The leader of Afghanistan's Taleban movement said it would never hand Osama bin Laden to the US

The supreme leader of Afghanistan's Taleban Islamic movement said Saudi Arabian exile Osama bin Laden is safe after the US military strikes on Afghanistan, and that the movement would never hand him over to the US.

Taleban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar condemned the US bombing of Afghanistan and saying Osama bin Laden's training camps - a target of the air strikes - had been removed before the attacks.

"There is no camp of Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan," the Afghan Islamic Press quoted Mullah Omar as saying in an interview by telephone from his headquarters in the southern Afghan town of Kandahar. "We have already closed his camps."

[ image: Target: bin Laden is reported to have escaped the bombing and shifted to an unknown location]
Target: bin Laden is reported to have escaped the bombing and shifted to an unknown location
Mullah Omar said: "We strongly condemn the American attack. This attack is not against Osama but it is a demonstration of enmity for the Afghan people."

He said that Mr bin Laden had already been shifted to an unknown place and added: "We can never hand over Osama to America."

Before the US attacks, Mr bin Laden had denied any involvement in the bombings of US embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam.

A spokesman for the Taleban, Abdul Hye Mutmaeen, told the BBC that US jets had bombed the Khost region and the nearby city of Jalalabad in the east of Afghanistan, but added that the jets did not appear to have hit their targets.

"I can assure you that he [Osama] is safe," the spokesman said, although he refused to give the whereabouts of Mr bin Laden or his other colleagues.

Sudan condemns 'criminal act'

Sudanese authorities have confirmed that two US aircraft launched an attack near the capital, Khartoum.

They said the air strike hit a pharmaceutical plant at Ashifa in Bahri, an industrial zone about 20 km (12 miles) north of the city centre.

[ image: Sudan said the US air strikes hit a medicine factory]
Sudan said the US air strikes hit a medicine factory
Information minister Ghazi Salahuddin said on Sudanese television that the US jets fired "one light bomb and then five missiles".

He said that the Ashifa plant was opened two years ago and "has been visited by heads of state."

"We condemn this criminal act. This is against the people."

Attack 'a diversion'

He said there had been no raids in any other areas, and that Sudan's leadership was meeting.

"I have no doubt that this aggression is to divert the attention from the cases from which the American president is suffering," Mr Salahuddin said, referring to Clinton's grand jury testimony over his relationship with a former White House intern, Monica Lewinsky.

An official statement read on Sudanese television about an hour after the attack said: "Once again the wrongful American air force launched air attacks on Sudan tonight which aimed at strategic and vital areas."

The statement was followed by patriotic music and recorded footage of marching Sudanese troops.

The Sudanese Interior minister Abdel Rahim Hussein said the target was a private factory that manufactured medical goods, and had no connection with chemical weapons as alleged by the US.

He added that Sudan had no chemical weapons factories.

'No warning' to Pakistan

Pakistan said it had received no prior warning of the air strikes from the US. Foreign minister Satraj Aziz said: "We were not aware of anything and no facilities were provided by Pakistan."

Mr Aziz said the Pakistani government opposed terrorism but was concerned by violations of national boundaries in pursuit.

"We are naturally against terrorism but this kind of intrusion appears to be unfortunate," he said.

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