- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 21, 2000

KABUL, Afghanistan The ruling Taleban militia, protesting harsh new sanctions over its refusal to surrender terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden, ordered U.N. offices closed yesterday and vowed to boycott peace talks.
The sanctions chiefly a one-sided arms embargo, a ban on official travel and the closure of Taleban offices outside Afghanistan are not directed at the Afghan people but are designed to isolate the Taleban regime, said Erick de Mul, the U.N.'s chief coordinator for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
However, the regime maintained the sanctions will only serve to hurt the poorest and most vulnerable in Afghanistan, a country already reeling from its worst drought in 30 years. Supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar called the sanctions "an oppressive action to subject the poor to inhuman sanctions."
"Step by step, the international community is killing Afghanistan," said 55-year-old Mohammed Zahir, echoing sentiments shared by other Kabul residents. "Slowly, slowly they are letting us die."
The U.N. Security Council on Tuesday gave the Taleban regime a month to hand over bin Laden and to close terrorist training camps or suffer new sanctions. Bin Laden is suspected of masterminding the deadly bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.
The Taleban regime's information minister, Qadratullah Jamal, denied that Afghanistan was host to terrorist training camps. And the new sanctions won't result in bin Laden's extradition, he added.
"Our position on Osama is unchanged. There is no evidence against Osama. We think this is just an excuse," he said in Kabul. "The United States and Russia are using the excuse of Osama and terrorism, but really it is the Islamic system of the Taleban they want to destroy."
The Taleban regime ordered a boycott of U.S. and Russian products, and Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil urged Islamic countries to join Afghanistan in trying to "hurt the economy of these countries."
The United States and Russia, former superpower rivals, had lobbied hard to get the 13 other U.N. Security Council members to adopt the resolution, calling Afghanistan a "haven of lawlessness."
The boycott is little more than a gesture since Afghans, among the poorest in the world, can't afford the few U.S. products on the market, such as cigarettes and candy.
However, the Taleban militia's vow to close the United Nations' political offices when the sanctions take effect was a major setback, said Koichiro Tanaka, Mr. de Mul's political affairs adviser. Other U.N. humanitarian and charity aid workers won't be affected.
The United Nations has been brokering talks to end 20 years of civil war between the Taleban regime, which enforces a strict brand of Islam over 95 percent of Afghanistan, and the country's opposition, which is led by ousted President Burhanuddin Rabbani and holds some territory in the north.
"The Taleban have to understand that anyone but the U.N. would be unacceptable for the U.N. and for the international community," Mr. Tanaka said from Pakistan.
Fearing a violent backlash to the sanctions, the United Nations withdrew its international staff this week. However, Mr. de Mul said Afghanistan had been quiet so far. "We will watch for another day and then we will begin to return," he said by telephone from Islamabad, Pakistan.
The World Food Program estimates up to 1 million Afghans could starve this winter.

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