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Saturday, June 17, 2006

Taliban commander surrenders to Afghanistan reconciliation drive

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) - A mid-level Taliban commander said to lead more than 100 men in southern Afghanistan surrendered to a government reconciliation drive s authorities arrested 12 other rebels.

Mullah Ibrahim, aged about 45, told reporters in the southern city of Kandahar that he had decided to join the reconciliation process "because I can see that there is an Islamic government in place."

Police arrested the one-legged mullah about two weeks ago in Kandahar province, the birthplace of the Taliban movement that sees the worst of the militant uprising against the new government.

The US-led coalition says Ibrahim had been in charge of 100 to 150 troops and was "active" in Kandahar city and Panjwayi district, about 30 kilometres (20 miles) to the southwest.

Panjwayi is a known Taliban stronghold and was the focus of intensive coalition and Afghan security force operations last month in which scores of Taliban were killed or arrested.

The commander however denied at a media conference that he was involved in the insurgency launched after the Taliban was toppled from government in 2001 by a coalition led by the United States.

Ibrahim, popularly known as Mullah Got -- a Pashtu language reference to his limping gait -- was an influential military commander under the Taliban regime, said a regional head of the reconciliation programme, Agha Lalai.

He fought the Northern Alliance, which later formed part of the coalition that toppled the hardline government, but then went underground.

The government initiated the reconciliation programme more than a year ago in a bid to persuade Taliban loyalists to abandon the insurgency.

The scheme allows an amnesty for members of the Taliban and other Islamic militias "whose hands are not stained with innocent people's blood". Officials say more than 1,200 former militants have signed up.

Elsewhere, four policemen were killed in Kandahar province's Maiwand district, close to Panjwayi, when their vehicle was struck by a roadside bomb, said Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial governor.

And 12 Taliban were arrested Friday in a house in central Ghazni province where they were attending a funeral, provincial governor Sher Alam said.

"The police acted on a tip-off and surrounded the house the Taliban were in and captured them without fighting," he said. A vehicle, four motorbikes and several guns were seized, he said.

The Taliban insurgency has steadily grown and last month saw an upsurge in rebel attacks that officials admitted appeared more organised than before.

The coalition and Afghan forces have since mid-May been conducting a drive against the militants called Operation Mountain Thrust that is supported by more than 10,000 staff, including support personnel and soldiers.
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