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SLUG: 2-286271 Afghan Taleban (L-only)









INTRO: Afghan authorities have branded the ex-Taleban foreign minister, who is now in U-S custody, a war criminal. V-O-A's Sonja Pace reports from Kabul the ex-minister is the highest Taleban official to surrender, but she says the vast majority of those who supported the Taleban have simply blended back into the local society.

TEXT: Twenty-six year old Zalmai says he is certain he saw a local Taleban leader in front of the central bank in downtown Kabul just the other day. Zalmai doesn't want to talk on tape, nor does he want his full name used. He says he is sure the man he saw getting into a taxi that day was the Taleban police commander in a neighborhood in the south of Kabul. He says the man has now trimmed his beard and no longer wears the tell-tale Taleban turban, but Zalmai says he remembers the face.

People here say they know that the vast majority of Taleban members and supporters, especially those in the lower echelons, have simply blended back into the local population. But, not all.

Last Friday, Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, once the Taleban foreign minister, surrendered in the southern city of Kandahar and is now being questioned by the U-S military. It is hoped he might provide some clues leading to the whereabouts of Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who is still at large.

Interim Afghan Foreign Minister Abdullah has branded the Mullah Muttawakil a war criminal, and there are calls for him to be brought to trial either here in Afghanistan, in the United States or before an international tribunal.

However, the governor of Kandahar province, Gul Agha, is quoted as saying that Mullah Muttawakil is cooperating with the authorities and should be able to expect more lenient treatment.

Some two months after the Taleban were driven from power, the search continues for its leading members and their so-called "guests," the al-Qaeda terrorist network and its leader, Osama bin Laden.

U-S forces have been sent to Zawar Kili, a remote region of eastern Afghanistan, to investigate the site of a U-S missile attack. Last Monday an unmanned U-S spy plane fired on and hit a group believed to include senior al-Qaeda members.

/// BEGIN OPT /// Some American media reports even speculated that Osama bin Laden may have been among those killed, but U-S officials say they have no information on that. Other reports quoted witnesses as saying those killed were local civilians. /// END OPT ///

/// REST OPT ///

The interim government in Kabul has released several hundred Taleban fighters as a gesture of reconciliation. Interim leader Hamid Karzai called them innocent conscripts and told them to go back to their village and focus on jobs, not guns.

Mr. Karzai continues to work to shore up support for his government, both domestically and abroad. He has just returned from a visit to neighboring Pakistan, which was once a staunch supporter of the Taleban. And he now visits the United Arab Emirates, one of the three countries worldwide to recognize the Taleban regime, along with Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

And, interim Defense Minister Mohammed Qasim Fahim headed to Moscow Sunday to seek Russian support for a national Afghan army to replace the current ethnic and tribal militias. (Signed)


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