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Wednesday, November 3, 1999 Published at 16:49 GMT


World: South Asia

Taleban slam 'cruel' threats

Osama bin Laden offered to leave for a secret destination

Afghanistan's ruling Taleban has accused the international community of cruelty for threatening it with sanctions if it does not hand over Islamic militant Osama bin Laden.

The statement came as it emerged that a man describing himself as one of Mr bin Laden's bodyguards had entered the Philippines on Sunday.

The US wants Mr bin Laden extradited on terrorism charges. It accuses him of masterminding last year's US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.

Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmad Mutawakil said the organisation had offered to have Mr bin Laden tried in an Islamic court or to have international monitors supervise him. But he said Washington's response had been the cruel imposition of sanctions.

The US has persuaded the United Nations Security Council to threaten sanctions if the Taleban does not hand over the Saudi militant by 14 November. The Security Council insists Mr bin Laden must be expelled to a country that will ensure he is brought to justice.

Tough talk

Mr Mutawakil took over as the Taleban's new foreign minister last week, saying his main priority was to improve relations with the West.

But on Wednesday he accused the US of using Mr bin Laden as an excuse to put pressure on Afghanistan and he called on all Muslim states to support his country in its struggle with America.

He repeated the Taleban's decision not to expel the Saudi dissident, saying that, despite their poverty, Afghans would rather face sanctions and remain free and independent.

The Taleban says Mr bin Laden is now likely to remain in Afghanistan after the US rejected his offer to leave for a secret destination.

Few friends

However, Saudi Arabia - one of the few nations to officially recognise the Taleban - has backed the US's extradition demands.

The defence minister, Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, said on Tuesday that Mr bin Laden should be turned over to stand trial.

He said the militant, who has been stripped of his Saudi citizenship, was considered a traitor to his country and to Islam.

The position of Pakistan, the Taleban's main supporter, is unclear following last month's military coup.

Correspondents say Pakistan's new ruler General Pervez Musharraf may be reluctant to pursue a controversial policy given his need to rebuild diplomatic bridges with the West.

The United Arab Emirates is the only other country to officially recognise the Taleban, who control 90% of Afghanistan.

Bodyguard

The suggestion that Mr bin Laden may be planning to leave Afghanistan of his own accord, has been revived by the arrival at Manila's airport of a man describing himself as Mr bin Laden's bodyguard.

An immigration officer ignored his description of his occupation and allowed him to enter the country.

The authorities have launched a hunt for the mystery figure who arrived on Sunday on a flight from Saudi Arabia. He had an Egyptian passport.

Immigration chief Rufus Rodriguez, has given his agents two days to find the man.

Mr Rodriguez said they could be dealing with a prankster, but were not taking any chances with a man who could be a terrorist.

The US is working with various governments to shut down any opportunities for Mr bin Laden outside Afghanistan.

Michael Sheehan, counter-terrorism co-ordinator at the State Department said: "We're working hard ... to try to figure out where he may be headed to, based on our intelligence reports, and trying to shut off those avenues.''

Mr Sheehan said he had heard Iraq and Chechnya mentioned as possible destinations.



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