Yahoo! Asia - News
Tuesday, October 2 11:17 PM SGT
Ultimatums from Bush, Blair as US "proves" Taliban, bin Laden guilty
WASHINGTON, Oct 2 (AFP) -
US President George W. Bush issued an ultimatum Tuesday to the Taliban, telling them to surrender Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network or face the consequences, after presenting what he said was "clear evidence" that all three are linked to deadly anti-US attacks.
Bush was echoed by his closest ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who told the Taliban: "Surrender the terrorists or surrender power: That is your choice."
Time was quickly running out for Afghanistan's ruling militia as developments snowballed, with NATO announcing that it could now activate, for the first time in its 52-year history, a clause in its founding charter stating that an attack from abroad on one member is considered an attack on all.
The announcement by NATO Secretary General George Robertson came after Washington presented the 19-member alliance -- and other countries -- with evidence linking bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the Taliban to the September 11 attacks that claimed an estimated 5,700 lives.
"The facts are clear and compelling," Robertson told reporters in Brussels after he and NATO ambassadors met Washington's counter-terrorism coordinator Frank Taylor. "The information presented points conclusively to an al-Qaeda role in the September 11 attacks."
Much of the evidence presented to NATO on Tuesday was to remain secret, however, to protect the intelligence agents and methods that assembled it, officials said.
Bush told reporters at the White House Oval Office: "The Taliban must turn over al-Qaeda ... and must destroy the terrorist camps. They must do so -- otherwise, there will be a consequence."
He ruled out any negotiations, pledging that the United States would take military action, although, he said, "there's no calendar ... we'll act on our time."
Blair told a conference of his Labour Party in Brighton, England, that if the Taliban do not respond, "the action we take will be proportionate, targeted."
"The aim will be to eliminate their military hardware, cut off their finances, disrupt their supplies, target their troops -- not civilians," Blair said. "We will put a trap around the regime."
In a diplomatic move seemingly timed to coincide with the ultimatums and dispel doubts among Arab and Moslem states over eventual strikes on Afghanistan, officials here said a major US Middle East peace initiative, including possible support for a Palestinian state, was about to be announced.
"We had started in fact to make more strenuous efforts in the Middle East," which had to be postponed because of the September 11 attacks, a senior State Department official said.
An early warning to the Taliban came Monday from President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, once their closest ally and the only country still to recognise them diplomatically.
"It appears that the United States will take action in Afghanistan and we have conveyed this to the Taliban," he told the BBC.
Asked if the Taliban's days were numbered, he said: "It appears so."
Support for the US-led anti-terror coalition came from less conventional quarters as well.
Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Brussels to meet NATO and EU officials and confirm his promise of material and logistical support to any military action.
In Moscow, Iran's visiting Defence Minister Ali Shamkhani said his country would support military strikes against terrorist bases in Afghanistan "if this action took place within the framework of the international community and the United Nations," the Interfax news agency said.
The Taliban, who have acknowledged sheltering bin Laden and refused to hand him over to face justice, were adamant.
Afghan Defence Minister Obaidulla (eds: one name) urged his troops Monday to "fight with all your might" against foreign aggressors.
"Our enemy is powerful but our God is the strongest of all," he said.
The United States has been surrounding Afghanistan with men and materiel since September 11 and there have been persistent reports over the past week that US special forces, backed by British commandos, are already active inside Afghanistan.
A Pakistani daily, The News, reported that US forces were hunting bin Laden in northeastern Afghanistan's isolated Pamir mountains where, it said, he and 1,000 followers had dug into a former Soviet base in the Wakhan Corridor in the Afghan panhandle that borders China, Tajikistan and Pakistan.
And a British daily, The Guardian, wrote that US and British intelligence had a "pretty good idea" where bin Laden was hiding and that he had been spotted recently in Kabul.
There were increasing signs the Taliban was beginning to feel the pressure from domestic and international foes as, buoyed by foreign support, opposition groups laid plans to replace the regime.
The Kabul militia announced an unprecedented power-sharing arrangement in three southern provinces that are traditional support bases for former king Mohammed Zahir Shah, who has been in exile in Rome for the past 28 years.
In Rome on Monday, the 86-year-old Zahir Shah and political and military leaders of the Afghan opposition agreed on a blueprint for Afghanistan's post-Taliban political makeup.
After three days of talks, also attended by a delegation of senior US congressmen, they announced the creation of a 120-member supreme council to elect a head of state and a transitional government.
The talks centered on the possibility of a return to power of Zahir Shah, seen by many as the only force still likely to unify Afghanistan's disparate forces.
The Taliban repsonded Tuesday by warning that a government led by the king would be a US puppet regime rejected by Afghans, condemning the country to further civil war.
International investigations into the terror network were also said to be progressing.
Officials in Paris said Djamel Beghal, a terror suspect extradited to France on Sunday from the United Arab Emirates as part of a probe into Islamic militant networks in Europe, had told them he had received orders from a top bin Laden aide to prepare an attack on the US embassy in the French capital.
Beghal said he received the instructions from bin Laden's right-hand man, named as Abu Zubeida, during a meeting at bin Laden's headquarters in Afghanistan.
The reported confession
was the latest development in a global probe that has seen nearly
150 suspected terrorists and their supporters detained in 25