- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 6, 2001

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Afghanistan´s ruling Taliban movement has asked international terror suspect Osama bin Laden to take over dozens of bakeries now run by the United Nations.

Western diplomats and relief workers say the Taliban asked bin Laden to pay for the bakeries, which feed about 300,000 people in the capital, Kabul, including widows and orphans.

Bin Laden, a wealthy Saudi by birth, would need to pump in about $500,000 a day to keep the bakeries going.

They are funded by the U.N. World Food Program, which has been trying to persuade the Taliban for more than six months to allow a survey of the city´s population.

Officials said much of the cheap bread was not reaching the really needy.

But the Taliban refused to agree to the demand because the U.N. researchers were women. Under Taliban rules, Afghan men are not allowed to talk to unknown women.

All the U.N. humanitarian agencies have backed the threat to close the bakeries by Friday next week if the Taliban does not back down. It now appears that the Taliban has no interest in continuing any dialogue with U.N. officials.

Another Arab-Pakistani funded Islamic aid agency, the Al Rashid Trust, has volunteered to take responsibility for some bakeries. The Taliban is still waiting for bin Laden´s reply.

Last month in New York, four bin Laden accomplices were convicted of bombing two U.S. embassies in Africa in 1998, killing 224 persons, including 12 American diplomats.

The United States has set a $5 million reward for any information leading to bin Laden´s arrest. The U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions on the Taliban in January for refusing to hand him over.

More than 1,000 Arab militants under bin Laden´s command are fighting for the Taliban in an offensive that began last weekend. They are attacking the last stronghold of Ahmed Shah Massoud in northeastern Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the first popular demonstration against Taliban excesses this year took place on Sunday in the western city of Heart.

The Taliban religious police had raided a hospital and shaved the heads of doctors for not complying with Islamic regulations.

The doctors fought back, injuring several members of the religious police. They were joined by other hospital staff and people, including women, in a march to the house of Mullah Khairullah Khairkhwa, the governor of Heart.

Mullah Khairkhwa reprimanded the religious police but Heart remains tense due to the standoff with the official Taliban administration and the young vigilantes of the religious police.

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