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Afghanistan: Taliban Flee Kandahar With Weapons

Kabul, 7 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Taliban forces today gave up Kandahar, their last stronghold, but the head of Afghanistan's new interim government says the militia's soldiers reneged on a promise to surrender their arms, and instead fled the city with their weapons. Hamid Karzai also said the Taliban supreme leader Mullah Mohammad Omar is missing and may have fled Kandahar.

U.S. Defense Department spokeswoman Victoria Clarke said the United States has credible information on Omar's whereabouts, but refused to elaborate.

In Islamabad, Kenton Keith, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said Omar was believed to be still in Kandahar.

"As far as Mullah Omar is concerned, we have been unstinting in our effort to try to locate him. The opposition forces have been closing the net on Mullah Omar and in Kandahar. We expect that at some point within the reasonable future, within a reasonable period, he will be in the hands of the opposition and at that point we hope to be able to cooperate in bringing him to justice."

Karzai says the amnesty offered to Taliban fighters does not extend to Omar. Karzai said Omar will be arrested if found.

In Kabul today, a UNHCR official, Kamel Morjane, said the fall of Kandahar could encourage some of the country's 4 million refugees to return home.

Morjane told a news conference that 24,000 refugees have returned since the start of October, when the U.S. began air strikes against the Taliban. He said the UNHCR is not actively encouraging refugees to go home yet.