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High-Ranking Taliban Leaders Surrender, Are Set Free

The United States will not have jurisdiction over several high-ranking Taliban leaders who surrendered to the new Afghan government Wednesday, a Kandahar commander said.

Instead, the Taliban's justice minister and other leaders received general amnesty after meeting with Kandahar officials and recognizing the legitimacy of Hamid Karzai's interim administration, according to Jalal Khan, a close associate of Kandahar Gov. Gul Agha.

"Those men who have surrendered are our brothers and we have allowed them to live in a peaceful manner. They will not be handed over to America," Khan said. "However, they will not participate in politics." He said they were free to go home to their families.

The United States' position on the officials' release was unclear.

The White House would not comment, but Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Tuesday that U.S. officials wanted such top Taliban ministers turned over.

"Obviously individuals of that stature in the Taliban leadership are of great interest to the United States, and we would expect them to be turned over," Myers said at the Pentagon.

But later, U.S. Marine Lt. James Jarvis voiced no objection to the release of the former Taliban officials.

"We're not in the business of determining who should and should not be in custody right now," Jarvis said in his daily briefing at the Kandahar airport, where more than 300 Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners are being detained.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to bolster the new government's authority in the capital, Prime Minister Hamid Karzai ordered armed men to leave Kabul's streets and return to their barracks within three days or be put in jail, Interior Minister Younus Qanooni said Wednesday.

The order allows only uniformed police on Kabul's streets, where fighters from various factions bristling with rocket launchers and automatic weapons have moved freely since the Nov. 13 departure of the Taliban. International peacekeepers in the city are also armed.

General Guidelines

In Kabul, intelligence ministry officials would not comment on the surrender and release of the former Taliban officials. In Kandahar, however, Khan said that the terms met the general guidelines granting amnesty to Taliban who recognize the Karzai government.

Included in the group of surrendering Taliban is Nooruddin Turabi — the one-eyed, one-legged justice minister who imposed some of the militia's harshest edicts, particularly those affecting women. He also established the feared religious police, who roamed the streets beating women considered not properly covered, as well as men who trimmed their beards or cut their hair in violation of Turabi's interpretation of Islam.

Others are Abdul Haq, former security chief of Herat province, an ancient cultural crossroads where the Taliban's crude, extreme Islamic rule was never well accepted; the minister of mines, Mullah Saadudin; and senior officials Raees Abdul Wahid, Abdul Salam Rakti and Mohammad Sadiq.

Surrender negotiations have frustrated the U.S.-led coalition. Last week, Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar apparently escaped after reportedly having been surrounded in the mountainous Baghran region north of Kandahar.

Asked if it wasn't a security risk to leave top Taliban officials at large and free to regroup, Khan said, "We don't find any danger from them.

"From the very start we have said when they surrender, and give up their guns and their cars, they will be given amnesty," Khan said.

Also Wednesday, the British military spokesman in Afghanistan, Maj. Guy Richardson, said the bomb-damaged main runway of Kabul's airport could be cleared of mines and reopened by early next week to give a boost to relief and military efforts.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.