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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 October, 2003, 15:32 GMT 16:32 UK
Confusion over 'freed' Taleban figure
Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil
Mutawakil has been called the respectable face of the Taleban
There were conflicting reports on Wednesday over the fate of top former Taleban figure, Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, with Afghan President Hamid Karzai denying earlier statements that he had been released.

Mr Mutawakil's uncle had claimed the former foreign minister was now free in the southern city of Kandahar, apparently confirming an earlier Afghan foreign ministry report.

However, Mr Karzai told reporters at the presidential palace: "This is not true, this is absolutely not true, he has not been released."

The US special envoy to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, standing next to Mr Karzai, added: "We have not released him yet."

And Colonel Rodney Davis, the US military spokesman at Bagram air base near Kabul, where Mr Mutawakil has been held for 18 months, said he was unaware of the release.

However, he did say the issue was now a matter for the Afghan authorities.

Phone call

Mr Mutawakil, 32, surrendered to the authorities in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan in February 2002.

A Pakistan-based aide to Mr Mutawakil said on Tuesday that the former minister was staying with his relatives in the city after being freed about four days ago.

On Wednesday, the same aide said Mr Mutawakil's brother was now travelling to see the freed minister from his base in Quetta in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province.

Mr Mutawakil's uncle, Abdul Ghafoor Khadam, told the AFP news agency: "He was released from Bagram air base two days ago and he is now in his home in perfect health."

Mullah Mohammad Omar
Taleban head Mullah Omar reportedly fell out with Mr Mutawakil

Mr Khadam said Mr Mutawakil had flown from Kabul to Kandahar on a United Nations aircraft and that they had spoken on the telephone.

Mr Mutawakil reportedly told him: "I'm good, the police provide security for me, some police forces are guarding my house."

A senior foreign ministry official in southern Afghanistan had earlier confirmed Mr Mutawakil had been released after helping arrange talks between US forces and the Taleban in Kandahar.

Mr Mutawakil has always been described as the more respectable face of the Taleban.

Just before the US sent troops to Afghanistan, he reportedly had a major disagreement with Mullah Mohammad Omar, founder of the Taleban movement, on sheltering Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan.

It was reported that Mr Mutawakil led a group of moderate Taleban who wanted Bin Laden to leave Afghanistan to avoid US reprisals against the regime.

Before becoming the Taleban foreign minister, Mr Mutawakil had served as a spokesman and personal secretary to Mullah Omar.

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