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SLUG: 2-317363 Afghanistan / Mullah Omar (L-O)







HEADLINE: Afghan Official Says Mullah Omar Is Alive

INTRO: An Afghan intelligence official says his agency was able briefly to make contact with Mullah Mohammed Omar, the fugitive leader of the country's former Taleban regime. VOA's Michael Kitchen reports from Islamabad that Taleban remnants continue to pose a threat to the current Afghan government, despite efforts to quell them.

TEXT: A senior Afghan intelligence official, Abdullah Laghmani, says Mullah Mohammed Omar was contacted through a telephone taken from a captured former Taleban functionary.

He says Sakhidad Mujahid, the Taleban's deputy military secretary, had a telephone with numbers for various Taleban fugitives when he was captured.

He adds that while Afghan intelligence was able to have Mr. Mujahid contact Mullah Omar, the former Afghan leader quickly ended the conversation. Further efforts to reach him have failed.

Mr. Laghmani says the call proved that Mullah Omar, considered a terrorist by both the government in Kabul and by Washington, is still alive. U.S. troops in Afghanistan have aggressively hunted for Mullah Omar and for his ally, Osama bin Laden, who heads the al-Qaida terror network. For nearly three years, the two and their top supports have evaded capture.

Other Afghan officials could not confirm the phone call to Mullah Omar, but say Mr. Mujahid is in custody.

Since their fall from power in 2001, Taleban leaders have run an armed resistance against the current Afghan government, including terror attacks on government and U.S. targets.

They also are attacking election workers in an effort to disrupt elections planned for later this year.

Vikram Parekh is the senior Afghan analyst for the Brussels-based policy institute, International Crisis Group.

He says the Taleban has survived by acting as a parallel government in southern and eastern Afghanistan, where the Kabul administration has weak control.

A stronger central government presence in those areas, he says, would make it easier to curb the Taleban.

/// PAREKH ACT ///

"We've been looking primarily for a military solution. I think what needs to be looked at is . the administration in the areas where the Taleban are active."

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Mr. Parekh says tracking down Taleban leaders will remain difficult so long as they are able to cross back and forth between Afghanistan and the semi-autonomous tribal areas of neighboring Pakistan.

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Pakistan has engaged in a number of recent military operations to flush foreign militants from its territory, but Afghan officials say some foreign fighters remain in the Pakistani tribal belt. (SIGNED)


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