November 26, 2001
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Osama, Mullah Omar in hiding: Northern Alliance

Shyam Bhatia in Kabul

Afghan United Front Foreign Minister Dr Abdullah Abdullah said on Monday that Saudi renegade Osama bin Laden and Taleban spiritual leader Mullah Omar, have gone into hiding together to evade US marines, who have been landing overnight in the city of Kandahar.

Dr Abdullah, who was addressing a press briefing in Kabul, said, "They are cornered, they cannot move. This factor might have influenced the (US) push. The next few days are very important in Kandahar and will be very significant for the fate of the Taleban."

Foreign diplomats in Kabul, who believe that the landing of the marines is tied to fresh intelligence information about the whereabouts of both Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, share Abdullah's assessment.

The diplomats' evaluation is that the US would not have committed ground troops unless the end game was in sight to capture the terrorist mastermind and his Taleban patron.

Speculation about where the two fugitives are hiding followed a message released by Mullah Omar on Sunday in which he said he was relying on God's support, whereas the United Front was relying on the United States.

"That statement shows Omar is in a defiant mood," Abdullah said.

"My response is that he is being punished by God for the crimes he has committed against Afghanistan and humanity," he added

Asked for his response to the landing of the US marines, Abdullah replied, "It is part of the campaign against terrorism. I'm not sure about all the details, but it's in that line. Our relations with the US are good, we are fighting for the same objective, we are fighting the same enemy."

"We know their aims and objectives. They will do what is necessary to eradicate terrorism and eliminate the Taleban."

When asked if the presence of foreign troops on Afghan soil would provoke hostile reactions, Abdullah said, "The present situation involving international forces was created by the Taleban who held the people of Afghanistan hostage. The Taleban created the situation by asking the international forces to come. But any attempt to position forces beyond the aims and objectives of the operation against terrorism will turn into a sensitive issue if not dealt properly."

Abdullah was also asked what he expected from the UN-sponsored talks on Afghanistan, which are due to start this week in Bonn.

He replied, "We seek a clear agreement for a road map to move ahead. It's not just symbolic, nor is it a final meeting to choose the destiny of the Afghan nation. We hope for results, but expectations should not be too high either."

Meanwhile Western diplomats in Kabul have warned foreign journalists to be wary of accepting invitations to visit Kandahar as guests of the Taleban.

A spokesman for the British mission in Kabul said, "I understand the Taleban might want to take foreign journalists hostage and use them as bargaining counters."

The spokesman's warning followed earlier reports that the Taleban have promised a US $50,000 bounty for every US and British reporter handed over to them.

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