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Afghanistan: Taliban Leader Defiant In Face Of U.S. Demands

Kabul, 1 October 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammed Omar has signaled his defiance against U.S. demands for the handover of Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda network. Speaking late yesterday on Kabul's Taliban-controlled radio, Omar said "Americans don't have the courage" to fight in Afghanistan. He said Washington should think twice before launching strikes on Afghanistan in response to the 11 September terrorist attacks in the United States. He said that the ouster of the Taliban regime would lead to a long guerrilla war in the country.

The Taliban yesterday acknowledged that bin Laden is being sheltered "for his own safety" at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan.

White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card said U.S. President George W. Bush has made it clear that the U.S. will not negotiate bin Laden's fate.

Card said the Taliban government must hand over bin Laden and all the "operatives of the Al-Qaeda organization."

Also, thousands of people rallied in Washington and San Francisco to urge the U.S. government not to use military action to retaliate for the terrorist attacks.

The UN's top emergency relief coordinator arrived in Pakistan today as aid agencies prepare to help hundreds of thousands of Afghans displaced or fleeing from hunger and war.

Kenzo Oshima is to meet today with Pakistan's president, General Pervez Musharraf. The visit comes as UN agencies scramble to prepare for a possible surge of refugees in case the U.S. launches military strikes in response to the terrorist attacks of 11 September.

Oshima coordinates the UN's key relief agencies -- including the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, UNICEF, and the World Food Program. The WFP over the weekend sent a food convoy into Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in a test to see if the aid reaches its intended recipients.

The UN also is building 11 refugees camps in Afghanistan near the border with Iran. A 40-ton UNHCR aid convoy arrived today in the eastern Turkmenistan city of Turkmenabat.