Surrender of Kunduz 'settled'

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Anti–Taliban forces advanced on the besieged town of Kunduz today while commanders from both sides discussed details of a surrender by the Islamic militia in their last northern stronghold.

Daoud Khan, spokesman for the northern alliance in Takhar province near Kunduz, said his forces took Aliabad, a town just east of Kunduz behind Taliban front lines, without a fight. He said the Taliban fighters there, under the command of Fazl Haq, turned themselves in.

At the same time, forces loyal to alliance warlord General Rashid Dostum advanced on Taliban positions from the west of Kunduz. Gen. Dostum told The Associated Press that he was sending the fighters toward Kunduz only to prepare for the Taliban surrender.

After taking word of the surrender deal back to their fighters in Kunduz, Taliban representatives to the talks, including Deputy Defence Minister Mullah Fazil Muslimyar, returned to Mazar–i+–Sharif on today to finalise details, a northern alliance commander said.

Gen.Dostum, a key leader in Mazar–i–Sharif, said tonight that the surrender of Kunduz "is settled."

"Tomorrow we will have another meeting to work out the details of the handover," he said. "On Sunday, the Taliban should surrender to us and hand over the prisoners."

Mr Khan predicted an even quicker resolution, saying his troops would move toward Kunduz on Saturday to disarm the Taliban and arrest all foreigners – some 3,000 Arabs, Pakistanis and others loyal to Osama bin Laden.

"We will go to Kunduz to disarm the people, because Mullah Fazil promised he would surrender and he promsied he will hand over the foreign fighters," he said.

According to alliance commanders, the surrender deal would give Taliban fighters from Afghanistan free passage out of Kunduz, but would imprison the foreigners. They said the foreigners would be placed in camps until the alliance and the US–led coalition can deal with them, but ruled out turning them over to international courts.

"These foreigners have committed criminal acts in our country. We will not hand them over to the United Nations or any other country. They will go on trial in Afghanistan, in our Islamic courts," said Daoud Khan, a senior commander near Kunduz.

The United States has insisted that suspected members of bin Laden's al–Qaida network not be allowed to go free as part of any deal. Many of the foreigners in Kunduz are believed to have ties to al–Qa'ida.

Statements by front–line commanders Friday indicated the depths of their hatred for the foreign fighters – and the uncertain future that could await those fighters if they surrender.

"If they surrender to the northern alliance, we will kill them all. They invaded Afghanistan," said another officer, Amanullah.

A surrender in Kunduz would leave only one major city – the southern base of Kandahar – in Taliban hands. The Taliban have vowed to fight to defend their spiritual base and the surrounding provinces.