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Wednesday, 9 January, 2002, 10:42 GMT
US seeks access to Taleban ministers
Taleban prisoners
Many Taleban prisoners have already been released
The US wants the Afghan authorities to hand over three senior Taleban officials as the hunt continues for Taleban leader Mullah Omar and Osama Bin Laden.


Individuals of that stature in the Taleban leadership are of great interest to the United States, and we would expect that they would be turned over

General Richard Myers
It believes the former ministers, who handed themselves in to the new Afghan authorities, could hold vital clues as to the whereabouts of the pair.

Former Taleban Justice Minister Mullah Nuruddin Turabi - known to be close to Mullah Omar - former Defence Minister Mullah Ubaidullah and Industry Minister Mullah Saadudin have all been allowed to return to their homes, according to the authorities.

But the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Richard Myers, said two of the ministers were senior enough to have intelligence information that might help prevent future operations by Bin Laden's Afghanistan-based al-Qaeda network.


These Taleban who surrendered are not criminals up until the moment an Afghan accuses them of a crime

Kandahar spokesman Khalid Pashtoon

"Obviously, individuals of that stature in the Taleban leadership are of great interest to the United States, and we would expect that they would be turned over, absolutely," he told a Pentagon briefing.

The US is hoping to gain further information about the whereabouts of Omar and Bin Laden after arresting two senior members of al-Qaeda in a raid on caves in the Khost area of eastern Afghanistan.

Taleban amnesty

They also seized computers, cell phones and other intelligence material.

Khalid Pashtoon, spokesman for Kandahar Governor Gul Agha, said the three ministers who handed themselves in on Tuesday had been allowed to return to their homes, although they would remain under surveillance.


"Of course we treat them just like any other human beings and we let them go back home. They were very happy. We told them that the government of Kandahar had no charges against them," Mr Pashtoon said.

He said that members of the Taleban who gave themselves up would be granted amnesty unless specific accusations were made against them.

"These Taleban who surrendered are not criminals up until the moment an Afghan accuses them of a crime," he said.

But he said Omar would be granted no such leniency.

In another development, the former head of the Taleban's information department, Abdul Hayee Motmain, has been detained and handed over to US forces in Kandahar, Afghan tribal commander Gud Fida Mohammad told Reuters.

The Taleban's former ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, is in US custody on a ship in the Arabian Sea.

Ibn Al-Shayk al-Libi, who ran al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, is in US custody at Kandahar airport, controlled by the U.S. Marines.

The US says the number of Taleban and al-Qaeda detainees held by US forces in and near Afghanistan has grown to 364.

Many are expected to be moved to a US military base on the coast of Cuba.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Hawton
"American air power is still in evidence"
The BBC's Richard Lister in Kabul
"The US expects that these ministers will be handed over for interrogation"
Ambassador David Scheffer, US Institute of Peace
"The people of Afghanistan would have a lot to say about bringing these people to justice"
See also:

08 Jan 02 | South Asia
Profile: Nuruddin Turabi
18 Dec 01 | South Asia
US names al-Qaeda 'most wanted'
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