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Reports Mixed Over Who Controls Kunduz - 2001-11-22

A senior leader of Afghanistan's anti-Taleban Northern Alliance says that talks on the surrender of the northern city of Kunduz have failed, contradicting his own commanders in the field who say Taleban forces have agreed to surrender.

A senior Alliance commander, Atta Mohammad, said agreement had been reached for the surrender of Kunduz and all foreign fighters would be handed over. But another Alliance official, Interior Minister Yunus Qanuni, says the surrender talks had failed and anti-Taleban troops are on the move to take the city by force.

A mixed Taleban force of Afghan fighters and foreign volunteers from Pakistan, Chechnya, and Arab countries has been holed up in Kunduz. The foreigners, who are linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida group, apparently fear what would happen to them if they are captured by the Northern Alliance.

At a news conference in neighboring Pakistan, a spokesman for the U.S. led coalition, Kenton Keith, indicated they could go along with a deal in Kunduz that gives Afghan Taleban fighters safe passage out of the city, but not their foreign colleagues. "For the non-Afghan forces, they would be, in our judgment, best detained and disarmed while their future is being sorted out and negotiated. Safe passage back to the countries from which they have come is not something we would like to see," he said.

If the Northern Alliance seizes control of Kunduz it will leave the once dominant Taleban with one remaining Afghan city - the southern stronghold of Kandahar.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has ordered the Taleban to close its embassy in Islamabad, the Taleban's last remaining foreign diplomatic office. A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Aziz Khan, announced the decision, which comes after Pakistan closed the Islamic militia's consulates in Peshawar, Quetta and Karachi earlier this month. "We have been taking gradual steps towards the closures of the mission and sub-mission. And Wednesday a decision was taken to close the embassy in Islamabad and this decision has been communicated officially to the Afghans this morning," he said.

U.S. led coalition spokesman Kenton Keith welcomed the Pakistani decision. "We are delighted to know that Pakistan is severing diplomatic ties with the Taleban," he said.

The Taleban until last week controlled more than 90 percent of Afghanistan. But after weeks of punishing U.S. led air strikes the Islamic militia has lost control of most of the Afghan territory, mainly to the anti-Taleban Northern Alliance.