'Senior Taliban ready to join new government'
KABUL: Some high-ranking Taliban officials in the besieged southern city of Kandahar have agreed with supporters of Afghanistan's former king to join a national reconciliation government, a top Pashtun leader told AFP on Sunday.

"Some Taliban, including high-ranking officials, are in contact with us. They have agreed to national reconciliation and to the establishment of a national government," former Afghan deputy foreign minister Hamid Karzai said by telephone from the neighbouring province of Uruzgan.

But he declined to give the names "for the time being" of the Taliban officials concerned because it "could endanger their safety."

Karzai is one of three Pashtun leaders in southern Afghanistan who have been negotiating with the Taliban leadership inside its spiritual bastion of Kandahar with a view to ending the siege without bloodshed.

Former king Mohammed Zahir Shah, an ethnic Pashtun who has lived in exile since being deposed in 1973, has become a focus of international efforts to form a broad-based post-Taliban government.

The Pashtuns are Afghanistan's dominant ethnic group and made up the backbone of the Taliban.

Many ethnic Pashtun have voiced concern that the Tajik-dominated Northern Alliance could seek to monopolise the next Afghan regime after its dramatic capture of Kabul and other key cities in the north last week.

Karzai conceded Sunday that the Taliban were still in control of Kandahar city, but added that some districts in Kandahar province had been "liberated" through popular uprisings.

Taliban fighters from Kandahar clashed with Karzai's supporters in Uruzgan province on Saturday, the tribal leader said, adding that US war planes had destroyed 30 out of 80 jeeps mobilised by the Taliban, killing mostly Arab and Pakistani fighters.

However, Karzai expressed hope that "soon as a result of contacts and negotiations the situation in Kandahar will be peacefully solved."

Earlier reports that the Taliban's supreme spiritual leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had agreed to surrender the city to the two other Pashtun chiefs, Mullah Naqibullah and Haji Bashar, were dismissed by the militia's spokesman as "Western propaganda".

Karzai, a close associate of the former king, is urging the Taliban to surrender not only Kandahar but also Saudi extremist Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted man.

The Northern Alliance's acting interior minister, Younis Qanooni, told AFP on Sunday that Bin Laden was hiding 130 kilometres (about 80 miles) east of Kandahar.

Western intelligence forces cited in the British press Sunday said that US and British special forces had cornered the Saudi-born dissident -- blamed for the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States -- in an 80 square kilometre (30 square mile) area southeast of Kandahar.
( AFP )