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Afghanistan: New Bombing Follows Deadline For Al-Qaeda Surrender

Tora Bora, Afghanistan; 12 December 2001 (RFE/RL) -- A U.S. B-52 aircraft today resumed bombing the White Mountains in eastern Afghanistan an hour after a deadline passed for the surrender of Al-Qaeda fighters holed up there. Yesterday, anti-Taliban forces gave hundreds of al-Qaida fighters believed to be trapped in the Tora Bora cave complexes a deadline of 0430 Prague time today to surrender or face a new attack.

Mohammad Lal, a senior commander with the U.S.-backed Eastern Alliance, is one of several anti-Taliban officials who say negotiations for the surrender are continuing. Lal said Al-Qaeda fighters are still expected to surrender.

The Afghan Islamic Press reports the Al-Qaeda forces are demanding they be handed over to UN officials and in the presence of diplomatic representatives of their various respective countries.

There is no independent confirmation of the report.

There is also no word on whether Osama bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S., was among the foreign fighters stranded in the Tora Bora area after U.S. air strikes.

Meanwhile, the United Nations' special envoy to Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, says he expects to meet today with the head of the country's interim government. Brahimi is in the Afghan capital, Kabul, for talks with members of the interim administration.

His expected meeting with interim government leader Hamid Karzai follows talks yesterday with Foreign Minister Abdullah Abdullah, Defense Minister Mohammad Fahim, and former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.

Brahimi said all Afghan factions are committed to the agreement reached recently near Bonn on the interim administration.

Brahimi denied reports that ethnic Uzbek military commander Abdul Rashid Dostum is not satisfied with the agreement. The UN envoy also said former President Rabbani is ready to hand over power on 22 December to Karzai.

Later today, Brahimi is due to return to Pakistan for talks in Islamabad with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

Concerning the flow of much-needed aid to hungry Afghans, reports say the Friendship Bridge between Uzbekistan and Afghanistan appears today to be closed again. The bridge was initially closed in 1997, when fighting between the Taliban and their opponents broke out on the Afghan side. It was ceremoniously reopened last weekend with an aid-filled train crossing the structure during a visit to Uzbekistan by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell.

But today, four trains filled with UN wheat are stranded on the Uzbek side of the bridge, which could serve as a vital gateway for aid to northern Afghanistan. Petar Bojilov, the UN World Food Program coordinator overseeing the shipments, says logistical details are holding up Uzbek approval for the crossing. Uzbek officials would not comment on the situation.