The Taliban Ruling Council today rejected US demands to turn over Osama bin Laden and his associates, opening the way for a threatened American military response.

The Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, stated in an Islamabad news conference: “Our position in this regard is that if the Americans have evidence, they should produce it.”

He also said that he did not know whether or not bin Laden was in Afghanistan, and added that the Taliban would have nothing further to say on the matter.

A council of a thousand clerics had earlier issued a statement suggesting that bin Laden might be persuaded to leave the country voluntarily. Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Taliban, said that bin Laden would not be given such a suggestion.

There now appears nothing to cause the US to hesitate any further in making good its vow to capture or kill bin Laden and wage war against states sponsoring terrorism, which would mean the Taliban regime.

There are rumors that bin Laden is in Pakistan or the Sudan, but these cannot be confirmed. Both countries have said that bin Laden is not welcome to return.

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