Taliban Chief Agrees to Surrender

KABUL, Afghanistan/ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Afghanistan's Taliban supreme leader, Mullah Mohammed Omar, who had urged his men to die rather than surrender, agreed Thursday to give up his last stronghold.

The announcement came after negotiations between the Taliban and Hamid Karzai, the tribal leader named to head a new Afghan government, and followed relentless U.S. bombing in and around Kandahar, once the site of a fort built by Alexander the Great.

But the whereabouts and fate of Osama bin Laden, the United States' enemy No. 1, were unknown.

As part of the surrender agreement, Omar's life would be saved, a Taliban spokesman said. The White House said it opposed any amnesty and wanted him brought to justice.

"Both sides, the Taliban and Karzai, agreed to the surrender of Kandahar for the welfare of the people to decrease the casualties to life and to protect the dignity of the people," Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban's former envoy to Pakistan, told reporters.

"Tomorrow the Taliban will start surrendering their weapons to Mullah Naqibullah, a famous commander. He will be in Kandahar tomorrow," Zaeef said.

Asked about the fate of the one-eyed Omar, who had breathed defiance in the face of U.S. attacks, Zaeef said: "His life will be saved and he will be allowed to live with dignity. He is a mujahid, he has worked for the people of Afghanistan and he is not guilty."

But Karzai, when asked about an amnesty for Omar, said: "I have offered amnesty for the common man."

He told CNN that Omar must "clearly denounce terrorism and make explicitly clear that terrorism has brutalized Afghanistan society and destroyed out country."

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, asked if Omar should be allowed to live in dignity, said U.S. President George W. Bush "believes very strongly that those who harbor terrorists need to be brought to justice."

Karzai said foreign fighters, with the exception of Pakistanis who fought with the Taliban, must be tried. "They are criminals and they must face justice, clear-cut justice," he told the BBC. "They must be taken to court."

One of the Pashtun tribal forces fighting the Taliban near Kandahar announced an immediate cease-fire following talks on a peaceful handover of the city, a spokesman said.

CNN said tribesmen loyal to Pashtun commander Gul Agha had taken control of Kandahar airport, a key logistical target close to the city. It did not say how or when the airport fell, but said anti-Taliban tribal forces were beginning to move on the city of Kandahar itself.

There was no independent confirmation.

In a clear sign that nothing is clear about Afghanistan's future, the power-sharing accord that named Karzai as the next head of government came under threat after just a day, with two powerful anti-Taliban leaders picking holes in its make-up.

Ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum said he would boycott the new government. His forces dominate a swathe of northern territory including the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, said his mainly Uzbek Junbish-i-Milli faction was not fairly represented under the accord signed in Bonn on Wednesday.

"We are very sad," Dostum said from northern Afghanistan. "We announce our boycott of this government and will not go to Kabul until there is a proper government in place."

Ethnic Pashtun spiritual leader Sayed Ahmad Gailani, whose Pakistan-based faction of exiles took part in the Bonn talks, also criticized the deal as "unbalanced."