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Saturday, 9 February, 2002, 23:16 GMT
Karzai frees 300 Taleban soldiers
Taleban prisoners in front of Kabul's presidential palace
Prisoners were told to go home and find jobs
The interim government in Afghanistan has released more than 300 captured Taleban soldiers.

The country's interim leader, Hamid Karzai, who oversaw the release outside the presidential palace in Kabul, said they were innocent and urged them to find jobs.


They should go back to their homes and begin their lives. They were conscripts... innocent

Hamid Karzai
Meanwhile, in southern Afghanistan, US military officials have begun questioning the former Taleban foreign minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil - the highest-ranking Taleban official so far to be taken into custody.

The foreign minister in the interim government, Abdullah Abdullah, said Mr Mutawakil should be tried for war crimes.

Mr Mutawakil - a close associate of the fugitive Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar - gave himself up after spending the past two weeks negotiating his surrender.

'Innocent'

Mr Karzai said the soldiers being released in Kabul had been conscripted by the Taleban and were innocent.

"These are Afghan people. They should go back to their homes and begin their lives. They were conscripts. They were innocent," he said.

Hamid Karzai
Karzai: "More prisoners to be released"
"We decided some time back we would begin to release everybody, those who did not have a bad record or links with terrorists. We just let them go home."

Outside the presidential palace, Mr Karzai called the prisoners forward and asked them if they wanted to carry on being soldiers. The prisoners - most of them in their 20s - all said "no".

They were then given 500,000 afghanis (about $20) and released.

The interim leader said his administration plans to release other Taleban soldiers being held around the country.

Information

A different fate awaits the Taleban's former foreign minister.

Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil
Mutawakil was a close aide to Taleban leader Mullah Omar

The US military has said it hopes that Mr Mutawakil will provide important intelligence about the Taleban and Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

Mr Mutawakil surrendered in the southern city of Kandahar, the former Taleban power base.

The city's governor, Gul Agha, said Mr Mutawakil went voluntarily to the US airbase just outside the city to turn himself in to the Americans, in the presence of Afghan officials.

The BBC's Kate Clark in Kabul says it is not known what kind of a deal was reached for Mr Mutawakil's surrender but he may have valuable information, perhaps even on the whereabouts of Mullah Omar.

However, as a relative moderate, more hardline Taleban officials may not have shared key information with him, she says.

Taleban spin doctor

Mr Mutawakil played an important propaganda role for the Taleban, putting a gloss on systematic human rights abuses, our correspondent says.

He also privately voiced concern about the increasing influence of Bin Laden and other Arab militants.

Despite the US campaign, very few senior Taleban figures have been caught and most members are still at large.

Many of the detainees taken to the US base in Kandahar have been flown to the US camp at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, and it is thought Mr Mutawakil could join them.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kate Clark reports from Kabul
"He is one of the few senior Taleban to be detained so far"
See also:

09 Feb 02 | South Asia
Profile: Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil
07 Feb 02 | Americas
CIA missile 'hits al-Qaeda leaders'
22 Nov 01 | Americas
Spy plane hunting Bin Laden
07 Feb 02 | Americas
US resumes Camp X-Ray flights
06 Feb 02 | Americas
'American Taleban' to stay in jail
22 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: Al-Qaeda's origins and links
18 Jan 02 | World
Global raids target al-Qaeda
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Analysis: What next for al-Qaeda?
02 Jan 02 | South Asia
Analysis: Al-Qaeda to struggle on
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