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|Thursday, November 01, 2001, updated at 10:54(GMT+8)|
Taliban Willing to Negotiate - OfficialFour weeks into the US-led air campaign, a senior Taliban official said on Wednesday the ruling militia is willing to negotiate an end to the conflict. But he demanded proof of Osama bin Laden's involvement in the September 11 terror attacks.
"That's the message for Americans," chief Taliban spokesman Amir Khan Muttaqi said in an interview with the first Western reporter allowed into Kabul since the bombing began October 7.
US President Bush launched the air assault after the Taliban refused to hand over bin Laden, chief suspect in the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
"We do not want to fight," Muttaqi told The Associated Press. "We will negotiate. But talk to us like a sovereign country. We are not a province of the United States, to be issued orders to. We have asked for proof of Osama's involvement, but they have refused. Why?"
State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the Taliban already had plenty of proof.
"All one has to do is watch television to find Osama bin Laden claiming responsibility for the September 11 bombings. There is no question of responsibility. There is no question of the responsibility of the Taliban, and there's no question of what they should do," Boucher said.
During the interview, Muttaqi, who also is education minister, exuded confidence, arguing in effect that Afghanistan's weakness was its strength. US bombing, he maintained, will not crack the Taliban, which claims no senior figure in its movement was killed in the four-week campaign.
If there were no negotiations, Muttaqi, along with other Taliban leaders, indicated that the war would turn into a conflict on the ground in which the Taliban would prevail - as the Afghans did against the Soviets in the 1979-1989 war.
During an interview with visiting foreign journalists in Kandahar, Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil challenged the United States and Britain to send in ground troops.
"Let them come here in the ground," he said. "We will fight and let's see who will win."
Although Islamic governments have distanced themselves from the Taliban, many Muslims sympathize with bin Laden and the embattled Taliban, and Muttaqi hinted at a possible Muslim backlash against the United States if the conflict continues.
"America, what do you want to do?" Muttaqi said. "Don't make Muslims everywhere angry. Muslims have no problem with Americans. It is American policy they disagree with. America should not oblige thousands and thousands of Muslims the world over to feel for the victims of the bombing because they will cause more trouble for America."
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