- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 9, 2002

KABUL, Afghanistan Afghan officials yesterday weighed a reported surrender offer from top Taliban figures, including the former defense minister.
In the southern city of Kandahar, a heavily armed al Qaeda fighter blew himself up rather than be captured as he tried to escape from a hospital where he and six comrades had taken over a ward, refusing to surrender to the city's new rulers.
The fighter identified as Mohammed Rasool jumped from the second-story window at Mir Wais Hospital, found himself surrounded by guards and detonated a grenade. The al Qaeda fighters in the hospital have held off guards for weeks by threatening to kill themselves if approached.
Cmdr. Sadozai, a high-ranking security official for Gov. Gul Agha, said in Kandahar that top Taliban officials sent a messenger three or four days ago saying they wanted to discuss a surrender. The names of the Taliban members and their location were not disclosed, but former Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Ubaid Ullah is said to be among them.
Mr. Agha and others were in a tribal council meeting yesterday to decide how to handle the surrender offer, said Cmdr. Sadozai, who uses one name only.
At the Pentagon, Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said U.S. officials were checking into the reported surrender offer.
"Obviously individuals of that stature in the Taliban leadership are of great interest to the United States, and we would expect them to be turned over," Gen. Myers said.
[Terrorist kingpin Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar are probably still in Afghanistan, but Kabul has no information on where they might be hiding, interim Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah told Reuters news agency yesterday.]
Gen. Myers said U.S. troops would not act "unilaterally" on Pakistani soil, and Islamabad said yesterday it needed no help to catch al Qaeda members.
"We have made all arrangements that those who sneak into Pakistan are arrested," said Mohammed Aziz Khan, a Pakistani government spokesman.
Allowing troops on Pakistani soil could be sensitive for many Pakistanis and other countries concerned about the spread of U.S. military operations.
Pakistan has said its troops arrested 23 foreign fighters trying to cross from Afghanistan over the weekend. At least 350 al Qaeda members, including more then 300 Arab nationals, have been arrested in Pakistan after crossing the border.
The exiled former king of Afghanistan, Mohammed Zahir Shah, who is to play a symbolic role in creating a new, longer-term government, intends to return to his homeland before the end of March, a top aide said in Rome.
King Zahir Shah, who was ousted in 1973, will convene a grand national assembly, or loya jirga, on June 22 to craft a new government. "His majesty has decided to go before the Afghan new year, which is March 25," the aide, Zalmai Rassoul, said.
Illustrating Afghanistan's deep suffering even after the end of the Taliban regime, an Associated Press reporting team discovered a village in remote northern Afghanistan where people are struggling to survive on bread made from grass. Mothers whose milk has dried up feed their babies grass porridge.
The United Nations said thousands of refugees who returned home to Afghanistan from Pakistan and Iran are turning back because there is no food.

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