In Afghanistan, the interior minister for Northern Alliance authorities has rejected a reported surrender agreement made between Taleban fighters who hold the northern city of Kunduz and a regional Northern Alliance commander. The Northern Alliance says it has now launched an offensive against Taleban forces who hold the city.

The Northern Alliance interior minster, Yunus Qanuni, says Northern Alliance troops are attacking Kunduz, the last major city held by the Taleban in northern Afghanistan.

The offensive was launched just hours after a senior Northern Alliance commander, General Rashid Dostum, said he had reached agreement with the Taleban commander in the city, Mullah Fazil, for the surrender of an estimated 1,400 Taleban fighters who hold Kunduz.

The reported surrender agreement followed several days of talks between the opposing sides in the northern city, Mazar-e-Sharif. The surrender offer reportedly called for safe passage for Afghan Taleban fighters and the detention of an estimated several thousand foreign Taleban fighters, mostly Pakistanis, Arabs and Chechens.

The Northern Alliance interior minister rejected the surrender offer late in the day, calling it a tactic to divide Northern Alliance forces.

Meanwhile, the situation inside Kunduz is described as increasingly desperate for thousands of civilians. Speaking in Kabul late in the day, U.N. spokesman Eric Falt said a local U.N. worker who escaped from the city has confirmed that civilians are being used as human shields.

"One national staff member of WHO, the World Health Organization, managed to sneak out of the city under the cover of darkness. He reached the WHO office in Kabul after a journey by road and by foot, and told WHO officials that armed men are preventing the population from leaving Kunduz," he said.

Reports from the city say many Afghan Taleban fighters are willing to surrender, but the thousands of foreign Taleban fighters have refused to do so, fearing severe retribution by the Northern Alliance.

Northern Alliance commanders say foreign Taleban fighters have executed hundreds of Afghan civilians in Kunduz in recent days. But the reports have yet to be independently confirmed.