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Friday, July 9, 1999 Published at 09:23 GMT 10:23 UK

World: South Asia

Taleban 'guarding' bin Laden

Mr bin Laden has many supporters in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Afghanistan's Taleban have acknowledged that the militant Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden is in the country, and that it is looking after his security.

BBC Kabul Correspondent William Reeve: His location is secret
Previously the movement said it was unaware of the whereabouts of Mr bin Laden, who the United States accuses of involvement in the bombings on its embassies in East Africa last year.

In an exclusive interview with the BBC Pashto Service, the Taleban's chief spokesman, Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil, said a Taleban intelligence unit was overseeing Mr bin Laden's movements and activities.

He said Mr bin Laden was not able to carry out any terrorist attacks from Afghan soil.

[ image: The fort near Kandahar were Mr bin Laden was thought to be living]
The fort near Kandahar were Mr bin Laden was thought to be living
Mr Mutawakil said the information on Mr bin Laden was kept secret to maintain the safety of ordinary Afghans.

Last August, the US launched cruise missile attacks on targets in Afghanistan suspected of being connected to the Saudi dissident.

He was recently added to the FBI's "10 most wanted" list, with a $5m reward.

Mr Mutawakil's statement suggests that the Taleban had been in contact with the unit guarding Mr bin Laden when they announced in February that he had "disappeared" and his whereabouts were not known.

Ready for talks

[ image: The Taleban are keeping Mr bin Laden's location secret]
The Taleban are keeping Mr bin Laden's location secret
A report from Afghan Islamic Press in Islamabad said Mr Mutawakil had expressed willingness to talk to the US about the bin Laden issue.

On Tuesday, the US imposed sanctions on the Taleban for offering Mr bin Laden a safe haven.

"We want to resolve the issue, but nobody is willing to listen to us," the agency quoted Mr Mutawakil as saying.

Mr Mutawakil said Afghans would survive the sanctions, but the international community was looking for excuses to use against the Taleban.

He said if nobody was ready to talk and if they used force instead, then that was their problem.

Mr Mutawakil argued that the US has never provided any proof of Mr bin Laden's involvement in any terrorist attacks, despite requests for such proof.

He added that when Mr bin Laden was given sanctuary by the previous authorities in Afghanistan, before the Taleban came to power, the US did not react.

The Taleban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar has condemned the sanctions as unjust and malicious.

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