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Taliban repeats call for negotiations


QUETTA, Pakistan (CNN) -- Despite heightened threats of military action, Afghanistan's ruling Taliban repeated its demand for evidence before it would hand over suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.

Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, reiterated a call for negotiations Tuesday and said the Taliban still wanted to see proof of bin Laden's involvement before it would turn him over to the United States.

"We need evidence, we need proof, which is the goodwill for the solving of problems," Zaeef said. "Surrender, this is not the way. We want justice."

In Washington, the Bush administration quickly rejected Zaeef's latest call for negotiations.

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U.S. officials blame bin Laden for the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington, which have left some 600 people confirmed dead and more than 5,000 others missing and presumed dead. The United States has said its demand for bin Laden is not negotiable, and has been massing military forces in southwest Asia to back up its demand.

"The president could not have made it any clearer two weeks ago, when he said there would be no discussions and no negotiations," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Tuesday. "So what they say is not as important as what they do."

U.S. officials presented their case against bin Laden to key allies on Tuesday, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair bluntly warned the Taliban to "surrender the terrorists or surrender power."

Blair said an attack on Afghanistan be taken against bin Laden's al Qaeda network and would try to avoid civilian casualties. But if the Taliban refuse to surrender bin Laden, he said, their military hardware, finances, supply lines and troops would be targets of a Western anti-terror campaign.

The Taliban's leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, said Tuesday night that anyone who supports an anti-Taliban government will be considered traitors punishable by death.

In his fifth radio address since the terrorist attacks on the United States, Omar said Afghans need to look after their religion and to not let U.S. involvement in "our affairs" destroy Islam. He warned against reinstating the former Afghan king, Mohammed Zahir Shah, or any form of government to replace the Taliban. And Zaeef said an attack on Afghanistan would have "very bad results and a very bad future."

"Afghanistan is the country which saw more than two decades of war, and also it saw a really long crime and drugs situation, which is very dangerous," he said. "In this war ... this will be increased."


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