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Kandahar surrender to begin Friday

Karzai, left, and Omar, who is rarely photographed.
Karzai, left, and Omar, who is rarely photographed.  

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- The Taliban's supreme leader will surrender the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar on Friday, but details how control will be transferred to local tribal elders remain unclear.

Former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, said Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar will turn over the city to Taliban commander Naqibullah, who will then direct his forces to hand over weapons and ammunition to local tribal elders.

The surrender was negotiated with Hamid Karzai, the Pashtun tribal leader who will head up the new interim Afghan government. Karzai said in a CNN interview that he hoped the surrender will begin on Friday and should not take more than two or three days.

"We have agreed to surrender weapons not to Hamid Karzai but to tribal elders," Zaeef said. "Mullah Omar has taken the decision for the welfare of the people, to avoid casualties and to save the life and dignity of Afghans."

Zaeef said Karzai would not be allowed to enter the city under the terms of the agreement. Zaeef also suggested that under the surrender agreement, Omar would be allowed to "live in dignity." But Karzai said there were no conditions.

Karzai said he had offered amnesty to "common Taliban" but Omar must make it "explicitly clear" that he renounces terrorism and acknowledge that terrorism has "brutalized" Afghanistan.

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"If he doesn't do that, he will not be safe," he said, adding that "I don't know if he will do that or not. That is our demand."

In Washington, U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said that any deal that would allow Omar to "live in dignity" would "not be consistent" with the stated goal of the United States of stopping "all the senior leadership (of the Taliban) and the al Qaeda."

Karzai said he had dealt with the Taliban but not directly with Omar in the negotiations over Kandahar. Asked if he knew the whereabouts of Omar or Osama bin Laden, Karzai said, "We don't know where he (bin Laden) is. We don't know where Omar is. Our communication came from the Taliban."

The amnesty offer only extends to Afghan Taliban fighters, Karzai said. Non-Afghan Taliban fighters must leave Afghanistan and face international justice, he said, adding that they leave the country "is up to them."

"They are criminals and I don't want them in my country," he said.

Zaeef said the agreement came after two days of talks between Omar and Karzai and other tribal elders. Kandahar is the spiritual home of the Taliban, who took control of it in 1994 before gaining control of the capital of Kabul in 1996.

Zaeef said Taliban fighters would hand in their weapons and their ammunition to the elders of Kandahar and would go to their homes, withdrawing from the city. The Pentagon could not confirm any details about the talks. "We are aware of conversations going on but we don't have anything we can confirm at this time," said Pentagon spokeswoman Victoria Clarke.

Rumsfeld said opposition groups are aware that the United States wants Mullah Omar brought to justice, and said he doesn't believe there will be a negotiated surrender unacceptable to the United States.

"I don't think I want to characterize the private conversations that have been taking place between the various opposition leaders and our folks, but there's no confusion on anyone's part on these issues," he said.

However, should opposition groups reach a settlement inconsistent with U.S. interests, Rumsfeld said U.S. cooperation with opposition groups would "clearly take a turn south."

Rumsfeld also said opposition forces should be cautious in disarming the Taliban, given the recent and bloody Taliban prison revolt in Mazar-e Sharif.

"I would think that anyone dealing with anyone surrendering would want to make darn sure that they are unarmed or put their lives at risk and the lives of other people at risk for their inattentiveness," he said.

A local commander and Taliban sources told CNN that anti-Taliban, fighters encircling Kandahar captured the airport that controls access to the southeast side of the city. Heavy bombing was heard overnight into the early hours of Thursday around the airport.

There also were extensive airstrikes southwest of Kandahar and near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border Thursday.


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