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Calling Americans Cowards

The leader of Afghanistan's hard-line Taliban told his people Sunday not to worry about U.S. attacks on their country because Americans are cowards.

"Americans don't have the courage to come here," Mullah Mohammed Omar said in an interview broadcast by Taliban-controlled Kabul Radio.

He urged Afghans to remain calm and go about their business without trying to flee cities that might be targets of U.S. air strikes.

During the interview, Omar repeatedly warned the United States to "think and think again" about attacking his country, which drove out Soviet invaders with U.S. assistance in the 1979-1989 war.

"If you attack us, there will be no difference between you and the Russians," the Taliban leader said. "We are peace-loving and we hate terrorism. The murder of one person is the same as the murder of all humanity."

Omar defended the Taliban's stewardship of this country since they took power in 1996.

"Before the formation of the Taliban government, there was complete anarchy," he said. "Nobody was safe. But now, there is complete peace in our country and there is no room for communism."

Omar also discounted any role for the former king, Mohammad Zahir Shah, who lives in exile in Rome. The 86-year-old former monarch told a U.S. congressional delegation Sunday that he was by America's side in the fight against terrorism and would back a
U.S.-led liberation force to oust the Taliban.

"He should be ashamed of what he is doing," Omar said of the former king. "He should be ashamed."

Also on Sunday, the Taliban's ambassador to Pakistan said the hardline Islamic movement had hidden Saudi-born fugitive Osama bin Laden for his own safety, ignoring U.S. demands to hand him over.

"Osama is in Afghanistan, but he is at an unknown place for his safety and security," Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef told a group of reporters and cameramen at his residence in the Pakistani capital Islamabad.

"Only security people know about his whereabouts. Osama bin Laden is under our control."

He said bin Laden had been given an edict from a council of religious elders, the ulema, and endorsed by Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar, that asked him to leave the country at a time of his choosing.

"The ulema recommendation was handed to him... it has reached him," Mullah Zaeef said. "There has been no response."

The Taliban, who have sheltered bin Laden for the past five years, have refused to surrender him. They say Washington must provide evidence of bin Laden's involvement in the attacks in which some 6,500 people are dead or missing.

By claiming all bin Laden's activities have been controlled by the Taliban government, the ambassador makes it seem as if he's more their prisoner than their guest, which makes keeping him seem more like an act of defiance than a gesture of Islamic courtesy.

Zaeef said U.S. President George W. Bush had taken an uncompromising line against the Taliban, expecting them to accept whatever demand he made.

"Bush has stepped away from negotiations and directly gone to a war situation... He expects us to follow as if he is our amir (leader) but he is not our amir," he added.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Sunday the United States had no reason to believe bin Laden was under Taliban control.

"Of course, it was just a few days ago that they said they didn't know where he was, so I have no reason to believe anything a Taliban representative has said," Rumsfeld told NBC's "Meet the Press" program.

Asked whether the Taliban would pay the price if it did not comply with U.S. demands and give up bin Laden, Rumsfeld said: "I would think that that ought to be self-evident at this point."

Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf told U.S. news organization CNN that hopes were dim that Afghanistan's ruling Taliban would hand over Osama bin Laden.

However, he said that while two Pakistani missions to Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar had failed to convince the movement to surrender bin Laden, the door remained open to more discussions.

Pakistan - which supports the United States in the confrontation, but is also the world's only country to recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan's government - hoped a successful mission could have averted a U.S.-led military strike against the Taliban.

Friday was Pakistan's second mission to the Taliban since the Sept. 11 attack. The first ended with a decision by Afghanistan's grand Islamic council to ask bin Laden to leave voluntarily - something he has not done.

One Pakistani representative in Friday's delegation said he believed the Taliban's top leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, was "not afraid of war" with America.

The United Nations Security Council late Friday unanimously adopted a U.S.-sponsored resolution demanding that all nations freeze finances of terrorism suspects and crack down on groups who help them.

In the words of the French U.N. ambassador, the resolution is an ambitious comprehensive strategy to fight terrorism, requiring nations to make willful financing of terrorism criminal offenses, requiring that they freeze terrorist-related funds and prevent movement of those suspected of terrorist connections.

The resolution also says nations must stop any support to terrorists and may not provide safe haven to terrorists.

But what the resolution does not have is teeth: it includes no sanctions against nations that violate it.

Meanwhile, senior British government officials believe bin Laden may be planning attacks in the next few weeks if he can mobilize resources.

"I understand he is preparing for high-impact terrorist attacks in the coming weeks, if he's able to," Europe Minister Peter Hain told the British Broadcasting Corp, citing intelligence reports. "We've got to track him down. We've got to stop him."

Foreigners On Trial
The trial of eight foreign aid workers in Afghanistan charged with preaching Christianity resumed Sunday, after being postponed Saturday.

The judge told them they would be treated fairly, and that the threat of a U.S. military assault would not play a part in their trial.

The trial of the two Americans, four Germans and two Australians began last month, but was suspended after the Sept. 11 attacks. The foreign aid workers are employed by German-based Shelter Now International, a Christian aid organization.

President Bush has also demanded the Taliban free eight foreign aid workers detained since August for allegedly preaching Christianity. Two Pakistani defense lawyers traveled to Kabul and on Saturday met with the detainees - two Americans, two Australians and four Germans.

Pakistan's decision to support the United States - including possible use of its airspace and territory as staging ground for any military strikes - has drawn fury from hard-line Islamic groups inside the country. That anger was on display again Friday, the
most important prayer day of the Muslim week, with anti-American demonstrations in several cities.

On the humanitarian front, international aid agencies are scrambling to stave off a full-scale disaster in Afghanistan, using whatever means available.

The UNICEF is using 4,000 donkeys to send some 220 tons of emergency supplies through a jagged mountain pass into northern Afghanistan.

A convoy of 19 trucks departed Peshawar on Saturday and traveled along the border before entering the Afghan province of Badakshan, controlled by the northern alliance opposed to the Taliban. The delivery, announced Friday, represents the first major shipment of
humanitarian supplies into Afghanistan since the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

The U.N. World Food Program is trucking in another 400 tons of food to Taliban-controlled areas this weekend, said Khaled Mansour, a spokesman for the agency in Pakistan.

The United Nations and international relief organizations evacuated virtually all their foreign staff from Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 attacks, leaving local Afghan staffers to tend to an estimated five million people who rely on outside aid for survival.

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