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Taliban Leader Criticizes Bush

July 3, 2001

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ The Taliban foreign minister on Tuesday criticized President Bush for renewing sanctions against the ruling Islamic militia, calling Washington’s move misguided and unfair.

``I believe that from the beginning the sanctions have been against the people of Afghanistan,″ said Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil. ``It’s a great injustice.″

Bush on Monday extended sanctions aimed at punishing the ruling Taliban for continuing to harbor suspected terrorist and fugitive Saudi millionaire Osama bin Laden.

Bush’s order keeps in place a national emergency declaration issued last June. The order, which must be renewed annually, freezes all property of the Taliban in the United States and prohibits trade involving the Taliban-controlled territory of Afghanistan.

The Taliban also face harsh U.N. sanctions for protecting bin Laden.

The Taliban militia controls about 95 percent of Afghanistan and espouses a strict version of Islam in a country ravaged by decades of chaos and civil war.

Muttawakil said sanctions are hitting poor Afghans more than the government, but the U.N. maintains the sanctions target only the Taliban.

Bin Laden is accused by the United States of masterminding bombings that killed 224 people at two American embassies in Africa in 1998. He has been living in Afghanistan since 1996.

The militia refuses to hand bin Laden over for trial, saying that Washington has no evidence of his involvement in terrorism.

Muttawakil said there is no reason for the United States to be concerned about the possibility of a terrorist strike because bin Laden is under strict control and cannot use Afghan territory as a base for attacks.

On Friday, the United States warned the Taliban leadership that it would bear responsibility for any attack on American targets by bin Laden, a move also criticized by Muttawakil.

``The United States has many enemies in the world, especially in the Middle East,″ he said. ``It is wrong to blame the Taliban whenever U.S. interests are hurt.″

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