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Last Updated: Thursday, 2 December, 2004, 14:52 GMT
US offers olive branch to Taleban
Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Kabul
Khalilzad has been active in talks with Afghanistan's warlords
The US ambassador to Afghanistan says that members of the Taleban who disarm will not be punished.

Zalmay Khalilzad exhorted them to contact tribal elders and lay down their arms to avoid being targeted.

He said that continued resistance is contrary to the will of the Afghan people and of Islam.

It is not clear on what legal basis Mr Khalilzad, in his role as a representative of a foreign country, made his offer to the Taleban.

There are 18,000 US troops in Afghanistan.

'A deception'

Mr Khalilzad made his plea to the Taleban during a press conference in the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Continuation of armed resistance is against the will of the Afghan people and Islam
Us Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad

"There's no need to fight, to stay in the mountains," he said. "Afghanistan has entered a new stage."

Taleban fighters should pledge allegiance to the government of President Hamid Karzai.

"In return, they will not be punished," Mr Khalilzad promised.

However, the offer would not apply to Taleban members guilty of serious crimes.

The Taleban was quick to reject the appeal.

"We will continue our jihad [holy war] - that's for sure," a spokesman, Mufti Latifullah Hakimi, told the BBC Urdu service.

"They have invaded our homeland and attacked not just the Afghani way of life but Islam itself. They started the war and we are just responding to it."

The Taleban regard President Karzai as a puppet of the American government.

Mr Karzai has spoken out in the past about the need to include former Taleban moderates in Afghanistan's political process.

Taleban soldiers
The Taleban still carries out attacks in Afghanistan

He has said that Taleban fighters who lay down their arms would be granted an amnesty if they renounced terrorism and dissociate from Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network.

The United States has staunchly supported Mr Karzai as leader of Afghanistan and its troops are leading the fight against the Taleban and its supporters.

The US ambassador is an expatriate Afghan, and is the highest ranking Muslim in George Bush's administration.

He is credited for brokering a peace deal between rival militia commanders in the western city of Herat in August, and is believed to have been instrumental in persuading the warlord Ismail Khan to step down as provincial governor in September.

The Taleban were ousted in 2001 when US forces invaded Afghanistan following the attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York.

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