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Pakistani Officials Mum On Possible Official Role In Clerics Meeting With Taleban - 2001-09-28


A 16-member delegation of Pakistani religious leaders is to meet with senior Taleban leaders in Kandahar, Afghanistan. The religious leaders say they will try to convince the Taleban leadership to talk with the United States, even though U.S. officials say it is now time for action not talk.

The delegation is being escorted to Kandahar, the seat of Taleban power by the Taleban Ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salaam Zaaef on board a plane provided by the Pakistan government.

Ambassador Zaaef says Osama bin Laden has received an edict from Afghan clerics who decided last week to ask the Saudi fugitive to leave Afghanistan voluntarily.

The religious leaders say they will try to convince the Taleban to hold direct or indirect talks with the United States. But U.S. officials say their demand that the Taleban surrender Osama Bin Laden and members of his al-Qaida organization is not negotiable. President Bush says the Bin Laden organization is responsible for the terrorist attacks in the United States.

Pakistani officials have avoided saying whether they are behind the religious leaders' mission. Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz Mohammed Khan, told reporters Thursday his government welcomes any effort that could convince Taleban leaders about the seriousness of the situation they face.

"Well any group or Ulema, or others, if they wish to have contacts with the Taleban government or wish to play a role, they can do so. They do not require any permission from the Pakistani government to play that kind of a role," he said.

According to the Afghan Islamic Press, several Pakistani government officials are included in the delegation, but it is mostly made up of religious leaders from Pakistan who support Taleban policies. The delegation is expected to return to Islamabad late in the day.

Meanwhile, the newspaper USA Today reports that American special forces have been inside Afghanistan searching for Osama bin Laden and members of his organization. The newspaper, quoting un-named Defense Department sources says teams of commandos are searching remote areas for the Saudi fugitive. A Defense Department spokeswoman refused to comment on the report.

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