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Afghanistan's Interim Government Frees 350 Former - 2002-02-09


The interim Afghan government has released several hundred rank and file former Taleban fighters in a gesture of reconciliation as the new administration focuses on rebuilding a country shattered by decades of war.

Speaking to 350 shivering prisoners lined up on a wintry field in front of the presidential palace in Kabul today (Saturday), Interim leader Hamid Karzai told the men to return to their homes in the Taleban's former heartland, in southern Afghanistan. He urged them to find jobs instead of using guns.

Mr. Karzai gave no details about the circumstances under which the men were captured, but he called them innocent conscripts. Authorities are sending the freed prisoners home with about 15-dollars (500-thousand Afghanis) each.

Meanwhile, U-S forces in Afghanistan are questioning the highest-ranking former Taleban official known to have been captured so far -- former Taleban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil.

Authorities hope to gain information that could help in the search for Taleban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and other top officials of the radical Islamic organization.

Afghan interim Foreign Minister Abdullah said former Taleban leaders, such as Mullah Muttawakil, should be treated as war criminals.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, U-S troops are at the remote Zawar Kili site to investigate the scene of a U-S missile attack Monday that may have killed several senior al-Qaida members.

Media reports speculate that one of the victims may have been Osama bin Laden. But U-S Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says the Pentagon does not know if the al-Qaida leader was in the group.

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