Afghanistan's ruling Taleban movement says suspected terrorist Osama bin Laden is under its control and being hidden at an unknown place for his own protection.

Taleban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef told reporters the Saudi fugitive is under the Taleban's control and only security people know his whereabouts. Mr. Zaeef says Osama bin Laden is in Afghanistan, but he is at an unknown place for his safety and security following threats of an American operation against him.

The Taleban ambassador also says that an edict from a grand council of Afghanistan's religious elders has been given to Osama bin Laden, asking him to leave the country voluntarily. But he says there has been no response from the Saudi millionaire.

Sunday's acknowledgement is likely to end speculation that Mr. bin Laden might have fled Afghanistan.

The United States has vowed to track down Mr. bin Laden, a chief suspect in the devastating attacks on New York and Washington early this month. President Bush has also promised to punish those who harbor him. The Taleban is sheltering the suspected terrorist mastermind, saying he is innocent of the terrorism charges.

Taleban ambassador Zaeef says his country is willing to negotiate with the United States. But he says so far, Washington has failed to provide evidence linking Osama bin Laden to the terror attacks in America. Mr. Zaeef says without that evidence the Taleban cannot consider handing over the Saudi fugitive to the United States.

The Taleban's refusal to surrender Osama bin Laden has made Afghanistan's ruling movement a possible target of U.S. military action in response to the terror strikes in the United States.