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Taliban leader: U.S. demands 'unacceptable'

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CNN) -- Afghanistan's ruling Taliban prepared for war Monday by calling up 300,000 troops as their supreme leader called U.S. demands to hand over suspected terrorist leader Osama bin Laden "unacceptable."

With U.S. forces moving into southwest Asia for a possible attack, Pakistan said Monday it withdrew its diplomatic staff from Afghanistan. And Taliban officials seized a U.N. aid office in Kandahar, the Islamic government's spiritual capital.

The United States has demanded that the Taliban deliver bin Laden -- the man U.S. officials say is behind the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington -- to U.S. custody. The Taliban have refused without seeing evidence.

"It is unacceptable that America issues ultimatums to the Islamic world either to listen to America's message or accept destruction," Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar said.

In a statement to the the Qatar-based television network Al Jazeera, Omar said killing either bin Laden or himself would not deter further attacks on Americans. He warned the United States it would avoid conflict only if it withdraws its military from the Persian Gulf, stays out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and leaves Islam and Muslims alone.

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"If they choose otherwise, they are looking for an endless war that will burn America and America only," Omar said. "When America doesn't choose a peaceful way out of this and chooses war and confrontation, she only is responsible for the consequences."

President Bush and other U.S. officials have said that the anti-terrorist campaign they have launched is not a war against Islam. But the Taliban have ordered their forces to prepare for a holy war in case the United States attacks Afghanistan. The Islamic government's defense ministry called Monday for 300,000 fighters to defend the country.

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"All detachments of the national defense ministry are ready for the defense of their religion and country with full vigor and order," Taliban Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah said in a statement read by the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, to reporters in Islamabad.

Al Jazeera also broadcast a statement attributed to bin Laden, urging Muslims in Pakistan to resist what he called "American crusader forces." He told Al Jazeera that three demonstrators killed last week in anti-U.S. protests in Pakistan "will be the first martyrs" of a new battle between Islam and the West.

Citing security concerns, Pakistani diplomats left Afghanistan's capital of Kabul over the weekend. Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are the only two countries that recognize the Taliban as Afghanistan's government after the United Arab Emirates broke diplomatic relations Saturday.

"We do not have now any presence in Kabul or other cities," Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokesman Riaz M. Khan said. However, the Taliban still have a diplomatic presence in Islamabad, he said.

After years of civil war and drought, Afghanistan has become increasingly reliant on international food aid, much of which comes from the United States. The Taliban also took over the World Food Program's supply of food in Kandahar on Monday as well as their offices, a spokeswoman said. The warehouse held 1,400 metric tons of food.

The United Nations warned the Taliban's seizure of the warehouse could affect food distribution to hundreds of thousands in southern Afghanistan.

"We strongly condemn this violation and call on the Taliban to ensure the safety of our staff and our food stocks and to allow the aid workers to continue their humanitarian mission," World Food Program spokeswoman Abby Spring said.

The Taliban also has locked up and sealed communication equipment belonging to the United Nations in Kabul, Kandahar and other locations. On Friday, the Taliban issued a decree ordering the United Nations to cease communication with the "outside world," U.N. spokeswoman Stephanie Bunker said.

"It is possible that any attempt to communicate with the outside world could put staff at risk of their lives," Bunker told reporters in Islamabad.

"Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that more national staff have decided to stop working and/or leave their duty stations, further diminishing the U.N.'s already low capacity to operate," she said.


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