Taliban remain defiant

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The Independent Online

Afghanistan's Taliban rulers will not hand over Osama bin Laden without evidence, Afghanistan's ambassador to Pakistan said on Friday.

The rejection came in a statement by the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef. Asked whether the Taliban would hand over bin Laden, Zaeef said, "No" but his translator said, "No, not without evidence."

He also said he had no information on bin Laden's current whereabouts.

At a news conference in Pakistan, the Taliban ambassador said he was sorry that people had died in the suicide attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last week, but appealed to the United States not to endanger innocent people in a military retaliation.

"Our position on this is that if America has proof, we are ready for the trial of Osama bin Laden in light of the evidence."

Asked if he was ready to hand bin Laden over, he snapped "No."

The Taliban's ambassador called for an investigation by the United Nations and the Organization of the Islamic Conference into the attacks, and criticized President George W. Bush's remarks made in a speech late Thursday.

Bush demanded in his speech before members of Congress that the Taliban surrender bin Laden, release imprisoned Americans, and give the United States full access to terrorist training camps. These demands are not open to discussion, Bush said. "They will hand over the terrorists or they will share in their fate."

The United States has named bin Laden as the prime suspect behind last week's terror attacks. The Taliban religious militia that rules most of Afghanistan has given bin Laden refuge for several years.

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