KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Taliban forces began handing in their weapons in the southern Afghan city of Kandahar today as part of a surrender deal with opposition forces, according to a Pakistan-based news service close to the Islamic militia.
The report, by the Afghan Islamic Press, could not be independently verified immediately.
The news service quoted Taliban leaders in Kandahar as saying they had ordered their fighters to give their weapons to a commission made up of Muslim clerics, local tribal elders and some opposition commanders.
Similar surrenders were also taking place in nearby Lashkargah, the capital of Helmand province, the agency said, as well as in several other centers in the region. The surrenders reportedly started early this morning.
In Washington, Haron Amin, a spokesman for the opposition northern alliance, said he was unaware of the report that a surrender was in progress. In Florida, Maj. Ralph Mills at U.S. Central Command declined to comment. The Pentagon has refrained from commenting on most reports of military action until the following day.
The reports come a day after the Taliban agreed to surrender Kandahar, their last bastion and birthplace, if their warriors were not punished and safety was guaranteed to leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, who once vowed to fight to the death.
The United States said it would not accept any deal allowing the cleric to go free.
The deal and apparent subsequent surrender marked the final collapse of the militant movement that imposed strict Islamic rule on Afghanistan for five years.
The report of the surrenders made no mention of any resistance by Taliban fighters. Instead it reported some Taliban personnel as saying that they were following the orders of Omar.
Until the surrender deal was cut yesterday, Omar had ordered his men to defend Kandahar to the death.
However, the Taliban reversed their hardline position after top opposition tribal leader, Hamid Karzai, agreed to guarantee Omar”s safety if he denounced terrorism.
Karzai, who is to head Afghanistan”s new interim government, also said he would grant a general amnesty to Afghan Taliban fighters who surrender.
Washington has accused Omar of protecting Osama bin Laden and his terrorist al-Qaida group, who are blamed for the September terrorist attacks in the United States.
The United States has made it clear that it will not accept a deal that allows Omar and other top Taliban leaders to go free.
Omar has made no public statement in regards to the surrender agreement and Karzai has said that he does not know the whereabouts of Omar or bin Laden.
The murky surrender pact made no mention of bin Laden and left unclear the fate of hundreds of Arabs, Pakistanis, Chechens and other foreign fighters in al-Qaida.
After briefing members of the Senate on the situation in Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld was asked whether the United States would insist on U.S. justice or would agree to let an international tribunal deal with Omar.
“We would prefer to have Omar,” Rumsfeld replied. He said “There”s still a good deal of confusion” surrounding the surrender.
In Washington, U.S. officials said al-Qaida fighters are believed operating from five to 10 cave complexes at Tora Bora in the White Mountains south of Jalalabad. Officials suspect bin Laden is in that area but also are on alert for his presence in the south around Kandahar.